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BJP for NIA inquiry into Panda arrest

Bhubaneswar, July 24: The BJP today demanded a probe by a central agency into the circumstances leading to the arrest of Maoist Sabyasachi Panda even as a Nayagarh court allowed the state crime branch to take the rebel leader on remand for interrogation.

Police arrested Panda, 48, who had been on the run for nearly two decades, from Berhampur last week. Sixty-one 61 cases, including the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmananand Saraswati and four of his disciples at Jalaspeta ashram in Kandhamal district and the attack on Nayagarh armoury in which 12 policemen were gunned down, are pending against him.

Both the incidents took place in 2008, which saw a significant rise in Maoist violence in the state.

State BJP chief K.V. Singh Deo has demanded the probe by a central agency such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The party has been casting doubts on the crime branch investigation into the killing of Saraswati and his disciples — which triggered one of the worst communal riots in the history of the state. Panda, who in the wake of the riots had claimed that Maoists had eliminated the VHP strongman, is the main accused in the case.

Though eight persons, including a senior rebel leader, Pulari Rama Rao alias Uday, have been convicted for the murders, the BJP maintains that the real culprits are still at large. The Swami Laxmananand Saraswati Smruti Samiti, a pro-BJP outfit, has also been demanding a central agency probe to expose the conspiracy behind the VHP leader’s assassination.

Singh Deo’s broadside has left the BJD leaders fuming as, among other things, he described Panda’s arrest as stage-managed and alleged a nexus between politicians and the Maoists. “The Maoists are not known to leave their commanders alone,” he said referring to the easy manner in which the police nabbed the rebel chief cooped up in a house in Berhampur town.

Singh Deo also alleged that the police had deliberately stopped interrogating Panda in the presence of his lawyer or family members and referred to reports that some ruling party politicians as also builders and contractors had links with the Maoists.

“There are doubts that state police will take the probe to its logical conclusion. It is being done only to spare political leaders,” he said, demanding that the probe be handed over to a central agency such as the NIA.

Hitting back at Singh Deo, senior BJD leader and industry minister Debi Prasad Mishra described his allegations as baseless. “If he has proof to back his charges, let him produce it. Making allegations for the sake of it is not fair,” said Mishra.

His feelings were mirrored by BJD general secretary Narendra Swain, who felt that the Opposition instead of criticising the state government should give it due credit for Panda’s arrest.

However, BJP leader Ashok Sahu justified Singh Deo’s demand for an NIA probe, saying that the agency could take up terrorism related cases on its own and was already investigating the 2013 Maoist attack on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh.

Sahu asserted that local Maoists had killed the VHP leader and his disciples at the behest of vested interests who are yet to be brought to the book. That, he said, was the reason why the followers of Saraswati felt that real culprits in the case were yet to be held.

In another development, even as the Justice A.S. Naidu Commission, probing into the Kandhamal riots, is reported to be keen on quizzing Panda through video-conferencing in jail, the Nayagarh sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court today allowed the crime branch to take the rebel leader on remand for interrogation.