Kandhamal: It seems likely that Naxal leader Sabyasachi Panda, who has kept the Italian national Paolo Bosusco hostage to force the government to agree to his demands, may just have committed a big blunder and in fact, put his own safety at risk.
CNN-IBN has learnt that the local Dalit community, which was his main support base in Kandhamal up until now, is not supporting him on the hostage issue.
At a local church in Daringbadi on Good Friday, a special prayer was in fact organised for the early release of Bosusco. Many locals have known the Italian national for two decades, and are deeply hurt by the fact that he was kidnapped by the Maoist leader.
Chandrabati Nayak, a local resident, says, "If Naxals indulge in such abduction, they will lose our support. We pray before God that Bosusco may be released soon."
Panda has, in the past, admitted to having killed VHP leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati for reconverting Christians to Hinduism. This killing had triggered the Kandhamal communal riots of 2008. Since then, it is believed, Panda had built a support base in the converted Christian 'pana' community. But the abduction of the two Italians by Panda shattered the trust they reposed in him.
Father Dushmant, the priest at Daringbadi church, says, "Perhaps the Naxals did not realise that Bosusco was so popular among the locals here. According to the released Italian hostage Claudious, the Naxals perhaps took them as hostage by mistake. I am sure Bosusco will be released soon, unharmed."
The hostage crisis has, however, rested the population of Kandhamal for a more practical reason: the absence of Naxals and security forces will help them lead a normal life.
Satyabati, a tribal woman, says, "We are fed up of the police and the Naxals here. We do not want any of them here. The Naxal presence here will only lead to police harassing us. We want to live peacefully."
Kandhamal is a highly communally sensitive area and the Naxals have used this divide to their advantage. Many believe that it was because of the huge local support base here that Panda was able to operate safely for so long. However, this safety nest may be beginning to disintegrate slowly.