Is Sabayasachi Panda’s influence over his cadres weakening?

Factionalism in the Maoists groups and a fading leadership has had the police rethinking their combat strategy

Bosusco Paolo may have returned home, but he continues to make headlines in Odisha. Paolo, who the Odisha Zonal Maoists group had abducted and released few days later, has told intelligence officers that Maoist leader Sabayasachi Panda’s influence over them was gradually growing weak has had the police rethink their agenda on the Maoists.

During his discussion with intelligence officers, Paolo said that Panda’s life was in perpetual danger and was guarded around the clock by 20 armed men. Panda, who travels with communication equipment including a laptop with a data card is also said to be ailing. “He is sick and under medication,” said Paolo. The Italian recalled it is futile to even attempt an escape from Maoist custody since the armed guards stood sentry 24X7.

Paolo has also claimed in an interview to an Italian TV channel that this wasn’t the first time he had been abducted in this country. “For a few hours, I was held hostage by some local tribals, I did not say anything as it may have created problems,” said Paolo.

However, Odisha police and intelligence officials who spoke to Paolo for more for than four hours at the state guest house in Bhubaneswar said Paolo had not brought the matter to their notice. Kandhamal Police Superintendent Pankaj Kumar told, “We will contact the Italian Embassy to ascertain his claim.”

Panda had laid down 13 demands including release of seven prisoners, none of which were accepted by the state government. Then why did Panda release Paolo? The question has generated much talk in the state. Another question raised is about how Panda deviated from the “guidelines” of the CPI (Maoist). According to the guidelines, no foreign national should be abducted. Panda’s abduction and subsequent release of the Italian national has created dissatisfaction amongst the local Maoist leadership. Panda’s negative remarks on Hikaka’s abduction that were against Andhra-Odisha Border Zonal Committee’s (AOBZC), didn’t go down well with the central committee leaders either.

In Keonjhar, Jajpur, Deogarh, Sambalpur and Gajapati districs 12 Maoists of the AOBZC cadre, who were working under Pandas’s leadership, had returned to AOBZC. Kalinganagar area commander Basanta along with Keonjhar, Deogarh and Samblapur Andhra cadre including eight Andhra Maoists have joined AOBZC.

According to sources, the Maoist mediator Dandapani Mohanty has now rushed to Baliapeta in Narayanpatana to iron out differences between Panda and AOBZC. Panda faces disciplinary action if these talks fail. According to sources, the Maoist leaders met on the Malkangiri border in an attempt to resolve the differences between AOBZC and Panda’s group. The various participating groups signed a memorandum that none of them will issue any statements about the other.

The release of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka’s was also at the centre of discussion at the meeting. Responsibilities of how pressure is to be mounted on the state were handed over to Maoist commander Daya and the final decision of any release will be now taken by woman commander Aruna. Aruna will coordinate with the zonal committee leader. A hardcore Maoist leader, Jagabandhu has been asked to keep an eye on the police and intelligence personnel.

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