Bhubaneswar: One of Orissa's most wanted Maoist leaders has claimed responsibility for the Aug 23 killing of a Hindu leader that triggered anti-Christian attacks in the state in which at least 35 people have been killed and thousands forced to flee to the jungles to escape rampaging mobs.
Sabyasachi Panda, leader of the Orissa unit of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), has said on television that his group killed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others in Jalespata Ashram in Kandhamal district.
He also warned that the rebels would kill around a dozen people who he alleged were responsible for the communal tension in Kandhamal unless they stopped their activities.
"Swami Laxmanananda was a leader of the VHP and was working to bring back Brahminism that was almost disappearing. He was supported by unscrupulous traders who were exploiting poor people," Orissa TV, a local television channel, showed Panda as saying Sunday.
"Hindu organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are targeting minorities, mainly Christians, attacking them, killing them and burning their homes," said Panda, secretary of the Orissa state committee of the CPI-Maoist.
"The tribals are not Hindu. They are nature worshippers. There are now five lakh (half a million) Hindus in Kandhamal and this number has grown because of these forces," Panda said.
"They are playing riot politics," he said.
"We ordered the death penalty for Swami Laxmanananda. He was the main member of the VHP. They used money from non-tribal traders to build up the Bajrang Dal and ran a propaganda against Christians," he alleged.
"They falsely accused Christians and attacked them. This is why we killed Laxamanananda," said Panda.
He also claimed that the rebels had left two letters claiming responsibility for the murders. But the state government suppressed both, he added.
When a journalist on the show asked him whether he was responsible for the violence that erupted in the state after the killing of the VHP leader, Panda clarified that the rebels are not responsible.
"It is the VHP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party that have caused the violence to strengthen their vote bank."
He also criticized Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for "his failure to protect the minorities" and acting on behalf of the 'RSS-VHP-Sangh' which killed Christians and destroyed their property.
However, Subash Chouhan, one of the national coordinators of the Bajrang Dal, told IANS: "The Sangha Parivar is not involved in the communal clashes."
Orissa's Kandhamal district witnessed communal violence since Aug 23 since the killing of Saraswati. Police said they suspected the Maoists to be involved in the murder. However, Hindus in the region blamed Christians for the killing and went on a rampage against the community.
At least 35 people, mostly Christians, were killed and thousands of homes burnt in Kandhamal during the violence.
More than 15,000 people, mainly Christians, have taken shelter in relief camps after their houses were torched by rampaging Hindu mobs.
On Sunday, authorities said no fresh violence has been reported in the region since the past two days.