|In this file photo, Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda (back to camera) speaks to journalists at a camp in an undisclosed location in Kandhamal district. Photo: Special Arrangement|
Speculation on the prevalence of a lack of unity and coordination among different divisions of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Odisha, it turns out, is not baseless.
Top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda admitted before newspersons that there was lack of unity among the division that he was heading and divisions that were at work in Malkangiri and Koraput districts in the southern parts of the State.
Mr. Panda, who operates from Kandhamal and Ganjam districts, said his cadres would not indulge in violent activities in the areas under his command till the hostage crisis was over.
Mr. Panda, who holds the position of secretary of the CPI(Maoist)'s State organising committee, lamented that the Maoists operating in the southern region of the State indulged in killing and kidnapping when the negotiation for the release of the two Italian nationals — Claudio Colangelo and Paolo Bosusco — was in progress.
Mr. Panda was speaking to the visiting newspersons while releasing Mr. Colangelo on Sunday.
According to intelligence sources, there were at least five divisions of the outlawed party working in different regions of the State.
This was one of the main hurdles facing the Naveen Patnaik government since the abduction of Jhina Hikaka, legislator of the ruling Biju Janata Dal, from Laxmipur early on Saturday.
After negotiations between three government officials and two interlocutors was abruptly stopped on Saturday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the Maoists to name their new mediators to hold talks with the State government for the release of the abducted Italians and the MLA. However, there was no communication from any group of the Maoist kidnappers till Sunday night. It was also not clear whether the State government would resume the talks with the mediators, B.D. Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty.
The mediators had suggested suspension of the dialogue process, unhappy with both the Maoists and the government.
Meanwhile, the wife of the abducted legislator reiterated her appeal to the Maoists to release her husband safely.
On the other hand, agitating legislators of the Opposition Congress continued their dharna on the floor of the Assembly demanding imposition of President's rule in the State in view of the deteriorating law and order situation.
The legislators had stayed back in the House on Saturday when the proceedings were adjourned till Monday following disruption of the proceedings by the Opposition members, who demanded the resignation of Mr. Patnaik.
The killing of top Maoist leader Kishenji and arrest of top cadres seems to have weakened the extremist outfit's central leadership, taking a toll on the group's operational planning with the Orissa double kidnap seen as a major tactical blunder.
The kidnap of BJD tribal MLA Jhina Hikaka at a time when Maoists were already holding two Italians captive might have diminished Odisha area chief Sabyasachi Panda's negotiating position forcing him to release one of the Italians on Sunday.
The MLA's abduction and killing of a police official compromised Panda who had to condemn the acts as a violation of the ceasefire agreed to by the state CPI ML committee. His options were further constrained by negotiators B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty calling off their efforts.
The conflicting actions of Kandhamal-based cadres, who abducted the Italians, and the Daya group - suspected to be behind the kidnap of Hikaka - is seen as evidence of slackening of the high command's authority.
Official sources said Kishenji's death and arrest of leaders like Kobad Gandhy has created a vacuum at the top and led to loss of control over area committees, with factional bosses working to their own agendas. Over the past year, several key state level leaders have been apprehended in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Bihar.
Local acts of intimidation at this time of the year are linked to efforts to discourage people from accessing Odisha's deeply forested areas where ultras are involved in collection of ganja, a money-spinner for the extremists. But the abduction of Hikaka seems to have been an overkill.
Political sources said the kidnap of Hikaka, a well-regarded tribal leader, has added to the pressure on Panda who is very keen to not only ensure release of his wife Subhashree from jail, but to also gain a safe passage for himself as security forces are believed to be snapping at his heels.
"Leaders like Hikaka are working to bring tribals into the mainstream. The soft approach has worked and now Maoist-affected districts are down to three from 22 till some time ago," said BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab.
The abduction of Hikaka is seen to be the work of Maoists from Andhra Pradesh. The faction seems to have overplayed its hand as Hikaka, a law graduate, is popular and his kidnapping might cost Maoists considerable sympathy.
In Kandhamal as well as in Makangiri and Koraput districts, the Maoists have come under increasing pressure in the wake of states like Odisha, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar coordinating their actions.