In a major strike, police in Odisha on Wednesday killed at least five Maoists following an encounter with a group of ultras led by rebel leader Sabyasachi Panda in Gajapati district.
Panda – who has floated own outfit, Odisha Maoist Party, after falling out with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), however, managed to escape.
The encounter occurred at about 10.30 am in a forest area under Mohana police station of the district, about 200 km southwest of Bhubaneswar, after personnel of state police came face to face with the rebels following a night-long combing operation.
“We recovered bodies of the five Maoists and some arms after the encounter,” Ganjam range deputy inspector general of police RK Sharma told the Hindustan Times.
Sharma said Panda might have been injured in the encounter. Combing had been intensified in the area to nab Panda and other members of his group, he added.
Operation against Panda came as a surprise to people who had started a process with the state government to pave way for the rebel leader’s surrender. “When a peace process is going on, act of violence from either side is not desirable,” said Radhamohan, one of the nine intellectuals of the state on the forefront of the process.
On the other hand, former state police director general SN Tiwari said the police’s move against Panda was strategically not sound. “Eliminating beleaguered Panda, who held against the Telugu-dominated Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI (Maoist) despite his waning power, will only tilt the balance in favour of the more powerful Maoist outfit. The state should focus on more vulnerable areas like Malkangiri and Koraput where AOBSZC holds the sway,” Tiwari said.
Panda, Odisha's topmost Maoist leader, came to limelight in March this year when he, as the secretary of Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist), ordered the abduction of two Italian tourists.
Few months after the release of the hostages, however, the CPI (Maoist) expelled Panda for openly criticising general secretary and supreme commander Mupala Laxmana Rao alias Ganapathy as “autocratic” and “dictatorial” in a letter.
After parting ways with CPI (Maoist) Panda floated the Odisha Maoist Party. Since then, the rebel leader, active in the southern districts of Kandhamal, Gajapati, Ganjam, and Rayagada, has been on the target of police as well as CPI (Maoist).