The last few weeks have been busy for the Maoists. In the recently held fourth central committee meeting, the party arrived at a decision on the issue of expelled leader Sabyasachi Panda.
Last year, Panda, former secretary, Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC), CPI (Maoist), wrote to the party’s general secretary, ‘Ganapathy’ or Muppala Laxmana Rao and two other leaders. In the letter, he spoke about the problems within the party, its organisation and failure of the strategy it has adopted. He pointed out that the Maoists’ strategy to continue a protracted war by declaring guerilla-occupied zones as ‘liberated zones’ only led to ‘militarisation by the Indian government’ and thus, would not succeed. He also said that the concept of ‘long march’ as used by Chairman Mao Zedong in China would not yield the same results in India. He suggested that the Maoists should take over the villages, force out landlords, redistribute land and take over the primary administrative function of dispensing justice by redistributing the land.
Following the letter, the central committee responded with a brief answer declaring him a renegade and ordered an immediate expulsion that has since cornered Panda into the Gajapati-Ganjam-Kandhamal tri-junction area of central Odisha.
According to sources, the Maoists decided at the recent central committee meeting that Panda’s allegations needed to be addressed because he is still considered a heroic figure in Odisha and because the rift stems from disagreements between Panda and his immediate superior, Modem Balakrishna, a member of the Maoists’ central committee.
In their 40-page letter written in Telugu, the Maoists dismissed Panda as a revisionist and implied that the 44-year-old rebel had gone ‘soft’. They also quoted the fourth principal characteristic of the party’s document on strategy and tactics: “Needless to say, this [the engagement of India in other internal conflicts] will be a great positive factor for the rapid advance of the people’s war by developing the people’s guerrilla army into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), establishing several base areas and then advancing towards countrywide victory.”
During the past few years, the Maoists have lost ‘liberated zones’ such as Saranda forest in Jharkhand and others in Odisha. In fact, declaring a zone as ‘liberated’ has cost the Maoists several such areas. It even led to the massive deployment of security forces in several parts of Chhattisgarh. They lost the liberated zones of Andhra Pradesh long ago, though Andhra rebels continue to dominate the party.
Citing the ill-treatment of Odisha cadres by the Andhra cadres, especially during joint operations on the Andhra-Odisha border areas, Panda had pointed out that there was a lack of democracy within the organisation. However, there is reason to believe that this allegation stems from a feud between Panda and his immediate superior Modem Balakrishna. Balakrishna had lost authority over Panda and was not happy about his making frequent statements to the media. After Panda’s expulsion, Balakrishna had suggested that Andhra-origin Maoist leader Golu Ramulu be appointed as the head of Odisha. Ramulu was killed by security forces in a recent encounter.
The central committee’s contention is that Maoists allow dissent as per article 25 (a) of their party constitution which describes the Maoist’s theory of democratic centralism. They said that Panda’s claim originates from a feeling of inadequacy due to the growth of another Maoist leader – Nikhilda. Nikhilda is the leader of the the Basadhara Dalam (armed squad) and has charge of the area where Panda is believed to be.
Another of Panda’s claims was that the present form of guerilla war would not be a sustainable measure for a ‘long march’. Though the Maoists criticised his suggestion, their militia wing has been experimenting with changing on-ground tactics – they have been trying a decentralised movement when moving in a battalion formation. The training camps are also not held in liberated zones, but are mobile as is the ‘mobile war,’ in which they do not stay in one place for long.
The rift with Panda is similar to the squabble within the predecessor organisations of the CPI (Maoist). Differences within the ranks led to a rift within the CPI (ML), resulting in several factions, including the Naga Reddy group, the Chandrapula Reddy group, People’s War Group, Party Unity, Resistance, Janashakti and many others. Till the 2004 merger, these groups frequently engaged in fratricidal encounters to fight for turf.