‘No change is possible without revolution’
Sabyasachi Panda, Odisha’s topmost and ‘most wanted’ home-bred red leader, has been elusive for more than a decade now. For long, the local media has been abuzz with speculations both about his elevation in the ranks of CPI (Maoist) after the killing of top leader Kishenji as well as his “surrender” and accusations of alleged sexual exploitation in the forest camps. Currently Secretary of Odisha State Committee, CPI(Maoist), Panda opened his heart out about where the revolutionary movement stands today, besides other important issues, in an interview with a few journalists at an undisclosed location in central Odisha.
Purusottam Thakur (Somewhere in central Odisha)
For the past few months, Maoist cadres are increasingly giving up arms alleging torture by the leadership. What has gone wrong?
All those who join the revolutionary movement do not have a clear idea about it. They enter the movement under different circumstances. Nonetheless, no change is possible without revolution anywhere in the world, and that’s how it is in our country too. But the cadres do not always understand the communist line of thinking about society and our ideas of democracy.
In the face of more intense State repression all around us today, our party lacks the capability to orient newly recruited cadres about the revolution. Moreover, to combat guerrilla warfare the State has resorted to low intensity conflict (LIC) in which vilification and misinformation campaigns to torture cadres psychologically go hand-in-hand with violent repression. Even non-party activists and those who sympathize with the revolution are not spared. Stray cases of surrender are perhaps a combined result of all the above factors.
Should the leadership of CPI(Maoist) be blamed for the current scenario?
No organization is 100 per cent perfect. An organization or a revolutionary movement becomes impeccable only by passing through several phases of evolution. If an organization or its leadership turns out to be incompatible, a conscious political activist may change the platform, but s/he does not surrender. Surrendering before the State means you are agreeable to the torture meted out by its tyrannical rule.
Surrendered cadres make allegations of sexual exploitation in the Maoist camps. Is there any truth in it?
Those who surrender give statements under pressure from police who manipulate the episodes of surrender. Police threaten that if the surrendered cadres don’t toe their line, they would be shown as arrested and tortured in custody. Take the examples of Sabitri, Prakash and Minati Majhi. They were first caught by police and subsequently threatened to utter prepared phrases, or else be prepared to face charges. Similarly, Kamalakanta Sethi, a youth from Rourkela area, is regularly being pressurized to testify against Subhashree (Panda’s wife) as a witness. Since he consistently refused to do that, he has been implicated in false cases.
A woman from Puri district alleged that you had harassed her sexually.
There are rogue elements in the party. This woman, Sabitri, was one such. She was pressurising men to have intimate relationships with her. Even after her marriage with Prakash, she planned to elope with another person from Sambalpur. Similarly, another cadre Rita forced a person from a village to have an affair with her. These women were unruly elements, undisciplined in their own life. We had committed mistakes by not investigating their background properly before allowing them in the party.
The timing of Laxmanananda’s killing was a mistake, but not the decision to kill him
Allegations of my involvement in sexual harassment are totally false. Since I am leading the outfit, I have become the main target of the police.
Moreover, most cadres come from tribal communities with tradition of consensual sex even before marriage. Sometimes they continue to follow the same tradition despite the restrictions imposed by the party. You cannot call this sexual exploitation.
Have the cadres diverted from the party’s ideology by resorting to killing at the drop of a hat?
Many of our armed cadres do not have a proper perspective on the party’s ideology. Inadequate understanding of the revolutionary movement and society is the reason why they don’t have control over the gun. As a result, they resort to killing without doing much homework.
Does the party take action against these undisciplined cadres?
It is not that we do not take action against undisciplined members. The party demotes some cadres, while others are deliberately kept out of important assignments. In some cases, we even suspend or expel them from the party. We are confident that we will be able to rectify our mistakes. Cadres will be motivated to work in close coordination with people at the grassroots level.
Has the party regretted any of the killings it carried out in the past?
Yes, the party is of the view that the killing of Laxmanananda Saraswati (slain Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader) in Kandhamal and Jagabandhu Majhi (Biju Janata Dal MLA) in Nawrangpur district were hasty decisions. Thetimingof Laxmanananda’s killing was a mistake, butnotthedecisionto kill him. We should have exposed him before the people before killing him.
Similarly, we should not kill someone just because somebody has accumulated huge property, as we wrongly did in the case of Majhi. We should seize the property and distribute it among the poor. People should have been informed why the MLA was wrong. Killing becomes necessary only if a person is clearly proved to be a police informer. The death penalty, if possible, should be carried out in front of the people.
It has been in public discussion that you have been assigned to take charge of Jangalmahal in West Bengal. Is it true?
It was part of the police strategy to divert the attention of cadres. Police spreads such rumours to distract the cadres and thereby get them trapped.
Surrendering before the State means you are agreeable to the torture meted out by its tyrannical rule
The CPI(Maoist) is known to be against industries, but it never attacks industrial facilities. Is it true that the outfit demands protection money?
Our opposition to industries should be seen in the proper perspective. If we attack all industries, the livelihood of workers will be lost. Communism always gives priority to the working class. If all industrial projects and mining operations are stopped, workers will suffer. We are closely watching industrial development in the state. We have decided to oppose industrial projects selectively. For example, the party would oppose alumina projects since they cause pollution and displace people. The party took the decision after it was debated within society in great detail. If similar sentiments are expressed by society about any other industrial project, the party would take a decision accordingly. Projects that cause displacement will face our resistance.
The CPI(Maoist) does not participate in elections, yet it always claims to believe in democracy.
The party has already made it clear that it does not believe in electoral politics. Whichever political party wins elections and forms a government will have to support the capitalist system. Electoral politics essentially yields corruption and repression. We, however, want people’s democracy to prevail.
Purusottam Singh Thakur is Rural Affairs Editor of Bhubaneswar-based MBC Television