Protests, road blockades and rail rokos brought Kandhamal district to halt on Sunday, after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, of the VHP’s Margadarshak Mandali, and four others were killed the previous Saturday night at an ashram in Jaleshpata area. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced a judicial probe into the killings.
A shutdown was also observed in Angul districts while saffron activists stalled traffic on state highways. Protesters damaged a Christian prayer house in Sundargarh district.
Police have clamped Section 144 banning rallies and processions in the communally-sensitive district. Additional companies of CRPF and State Police, two IGPs and two DIGs are camping there. The government has ordered schools and colleges across the state to remain closed on Monday in view of the 12-hour bandh call given by the VHP.
The scene was a grim reminder of December 24, last year, when communal clashes broke out in the district after some Christian groups allegedly attacked Swami Laxmananda.
The modus operandi of Saturday’s attack and a threat letter written to the Swami earlier reveal the handiwork of the Maoists, police said.
Nearly 30 heavily armed assailants attacked the ashram during a Janmashtami celebration. Survivor Sankar Baba said: “The attackers were armed with automatic weapons. They were wearing black robes and speaking to each other in Oriya. They sprayed bullets at the Swami and killed four others.”
The People’s Liberation Revolutionary Group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Azad, claiming to represent the group, called up newspaper offices to say, “We killed the Swami as he was mixing religion with politics...”
Swami Laxamanananda was spearheading the re-conversion movement in the district to bring back converted Christians to the Hindu fold.
VHP leaders disagree with the police theory blaming Maoists and believe that they are “hoodwinking people by shifting the blame”. State VHP secretary Gouri Prasad Rath told HT: “This attack is the handiwork of the Christians. There were four home guards at the ashram. Had the attackers been Maoists, they would have first attacked these cops. Swamiji was fighting the missionaries for four decades. We see a clear Christian conspiracy behind this attack.”
Tension within Parivar
An upset RSS has blamed the BJD-BJP ruling combine of playing into the hands of the Church by claiming that Maoists may be behind the attack. They say the governemnt is trying to give this impression to hide its “own failure” to protect him.
LK Advani and BJP chief Rajnath Singh expressed shock at the killing, hoping that the state would identify and punish the guilty.