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RSS leader shot, rebel hand suspected

Bhubaneswar, March 19: Suspected Maoists gunned down an RSS leader in Kandhamal early this morning, rekindling tension in the communally sensitive district after a brief lull.

Talking to The Telegraph, Kandhamal superintendent of police S. Praveen Kumar confirmed the incident. He said Prabhat Panigrahi, the head of the RSS’s Kotgarh block unit, was shot by a group of 15-20 “suspected Maoists” at Rudiguma village.

Eyewitnesses said the group of armed men descended on the village around 2am, called the victim out of his house and sprayed bullets on him. Printed posters were found pasted on the walls of his house. The posters decried “Hindu communal politics”. “Those who are doing politics in the name of the Hindu religion will be punished,” a poster read.

Kumar said senior police officers had reached the spot to investigate the killing. “A combing operation has been launched in neighbouring areas,” he added.

Panigrahi’s death triggered strong resentment among the local Hindu community. Irate residents blocked the Kotagrah-Muniguda road, demanding protection and a Rs 10 lakh compensation to the RSS leader’s family members.

Additional forces have been deployed in and around the village to prevent any untoward incident. However, the forces reached the village late because the approach road was blocked by felled trees, police sources said.

The deceased RSS leader had reportedly been arrested for his alleged involvement in the Kandhamal communal riots that began after the murders of VHP leader Laxmananda Saraswati and his four associates on August 23, 2008, in Jaleshpeta ashram. He was released from the Baliguda jail on bail on March 14 and was staying at the house of an RSS activist.

Sources said Panigrahi was on the Maoist hit list and the rebels had issued threats, through posters, to award “death” to those who were allegedly involved in the communal riots that killed several innocent civilians. The incident is likely to precipitate tension and figure in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar campaigns for the coming Lok Sabha and Assembly elections scheduled to start soon.

Union leader killed

In another incident, Maoists abducted a Citu leader and labour contractor, Ravi Oram, from Sundergarh and beheaded him yesterday night.

The headless body of the 35-year-old leader was found late in the night in a forested area near his home in Renjda village. A Maoist poster was also recovered from the spot. It said that the party had awarded death penalty to a “police informer”. Rourkela superintendent of police Santosh Bala said that they had begun a probe into the case.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that some 20-25 masked men were reportedly seen abducting Oram on Tuesday. The Citu has called a bandh tomorrow in protest against the incident.

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