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Who is Sabyasachi Panda ?

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, July 18:

There is a great deal of curiosity among people about the arrested Odisha Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda. Here is a profile of the left rebel.

46 year old Sabyasachi Panda alias Sunil was born into a political family in Mayurjhalia village in Ranpur in Odisha’s Khordha district. His grandfather Madan Sundar Panda, a freedom fighter served a 12-year jail term for his leading role in the Ranpur Praja rebellion and involvement in the murder of a top British official.

Sabyasachi’s father Ramesh Chandra Panda had started his political career when he was a student in Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. He joined the Student’s Federation, a front of the undivided Communist Party of India ( CPI ) and later became a fulltime CPI activist. In 1964 after the split in the CPI, Ramesh joined the CPI (M). He operated out of his base in Ranpur block in the undivided Puri district and was elected the chairman of Ranpur block in 1967. He was elected to the Odisha assembly from Ranpur constituency the same year. He was elected thrice from the same constituency.

Sabyasachi after his arrest
Sabyasachi after his arrest

Sabyasachi was deeply influenced by Marxist ideology even when he was in school and joined the SFI while he was astudent at the SCS College in Puri. He became an active member of the CPI (M) in 1985 and looked after the student wing of the party.

From 1985 to 1990, he stayed in the CPI(M) headquarters in Bhubaneswar as a whole timer.

Following internal bickerings and differences of opinion over party programmes, the Odisha unit of the CPI (M) suffered a split in 1990-91 with two sections of dissidents walking out to form two different outfits. One splinter group formed the Odisha Communist Party (OCP) and the other, Indian People’s Front (IPF) with Dandapani Mohanty as the state president and Sabyasachi, as the general secretary. Nagbhushan Patnaik was the national president of IPF.Since the IPF was aligned with the CPI (ML)- Liberation both were also inducted into the party’s state committee. Sabyasachi was intimately associated with Dandapani Mohanty until the time he went underground.

Sabyasachi left the CPI (ML) in 1996. In 1995 he had started organising the tribals in the Bansadhara area in Rayagada-Gajapati districts to build a movement for tribals’ dignity and to assert their rights over land in the 5th Schedule Areas. Overground outfits like the Chasi Mulia Samiti (CMS) and Kui Labanga Sangh (KLS) were formed to reclaim land from ‘sahukars’, a class of people who are into moneylending and business.

The movement gathered steam and Sabyasachi chose to move out of the coastal belt to build his base in the Bansadhara (Vashdhara) area. Alarmed by the growth of a radical movement the state government ordered a crackdown and arrested hundreds of people in Rayagada and Gajapati districts. In Mandrabaju in Gajapati district 8 tribals were killed in police firing. Sabyasachi was arrested, kept in Padampur police station ( Rayagada district ) and subjected to torture.

In 2000, after getting bail, he went underground. He first joined the CPI -ML-Party Unity which later merged with PWG in 2002. In 2004, after the merger of PWG and MCC to form CPI (Maoist), he joined the CPI (Maoist). For two years he was the Secretary of the Bansadhara or the Vashdhara Division of the party. In 2006 Sabaysachi was appointed as the Secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee ( OSOC).

Sabyasachi has mostly been an organiser, spokesperson and planner for his party. He has repeatedly said he does not believe in violence for the sake of violence and that. Although he is not known for his military or warfare skills, he has been named as one of the main accused persons in a number of major cases like jail-break, armoury loot and abduction of a police officer and jailor in R.Udaygiri in Gajapati district in 2006, Nayagarh armoury loot in 2008 that left 15 policemen dead and murder of VHP leader Swami Laxmananand Saraswati in Jaleshpata in Kandhamal district in 2008.

Morphed pic of Sabyasachi Panda
Morphed pic of Sabyasachi Panda

Sabyasachi developed serious differences with the powerful Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of the party over a number of issues in 2008, especially after the party took a decision to kill the VHP leader Swami Laxmananand without taking him into confidence. This murder had led to the horrific anti-Christian riots across Kandhamal district and despite his differences with his AOBSZC comrades over the issue he had defended the Maoist action in his interviews to the media.

In 2009-10 Sabyasachi was stripped of some of his powers by the Central Committee of the party following reports that he was not doing enough on the military front. However, it was Kishen ji who had come to his rescue. He defended Sabyasachi stoutly in the party fora and ensured his position was restored in the party. After Kishenji’s death in an encounter in West Bengal Sabyasachi has reportedly entered into a fresh round of spat with his comrades from Andhra Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Most of his deputies and associates have also surrendered.

Now Sabyasachi commands a truncated band of followers and cadres in four districts – Kandhamal, Gajapati, Rayagada and Ganjam. He was on top of the most wanted list of the Odisha police carrying a cash reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head.

Panda had married a Left activist Subhashree Das in 1998 and they have a 12-year daughter, Swaroopa.

Subhashree was arrested in January 2010 from her home on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act ( UAPA ) for allegedly being an overground worker of the Maoist party.

Subhashree was acquitted by the Odisha High Court in September 2011 but was re-arrested under fresh charges of being a part of a Maoist squad that launched an armed attack on the police in Kutinguda in Rayagada district in 2003. Subhashree was at that time a mother of a 8-month old baby girl ! The case was tried in the Fast Track Court in Gunupur which acquitted her of all charges on the 10th of April, 2012. Her name had also figured in the list of to-be-released prisoners in exchange for an Italian national Paolo Bosusco who had been abducted by Sabyasachi Panda’s group on 14 March 2012.

Panda’s elder brother Sidharth is an active member of the present ruling party Biju Janata Dal (BJD ) which has been in power in Odisha for the last 12 years. Many suspect the state government has adopted a soft attitude towards the Left rebel because of his family’s links with the BJD. By the way, Panda’s late father, Ramesh Panda a few years before his death had joined the BJD and had become president of the Nayagarh district unit.

Panda’s mother lives with her elder son Sidharth in Bhubaneswar.

Subhashri ( Mili), his wife now stays in Sabyasachi’s native village Mayurjhalia, with her 12 year old daughter and heads a people’s platform called Jana Manch. She had contested the Ranpur Assembly seat on an Aama Odisha Party ticket but lost.