Bikers in Bhubaneswar dread going out without a helmet these days. The reason: steep fines. But when hundreds of BJD youth workers rode through one of the city’s main thoroughfares in a ‘bike rally’ on the ruling party’s foundation day on December 26, 2019, the police just stood by. Forty of them eventually paid the fine of Rs 1, 000 each, well over a week later when taunts by the Twitterati with pictures of the rally left the police commissionerate embarrassed. In sharp contrast, when Youth Congress workers threw eggs on CM Naveen Patnaik’s cavalcade in 2015, the eggs didn’t hit the CM’s car, but the police slapped a host of stringent charges, including Section 307 (attempt to murder), on the workers, making it difficult for them to secure bail for nearly a month.
In September 2018, the Naveen dispensation pounced on a motivated media report to lodge a case against BJP leader Jay Panda (then a BJD leader who had fallen out with Naveen) and seize his helicopter for flying “dangerously close” to the Chilika lake, an eco-sensitive zone. The family hangar at the Bhubaneswar airport was sealed and all three helicopters—not just the one on which the trip was undertaken—remained out of bounds for the family for well over a month. Simultaneously, it used some old, sarcastic tweets about Odisha and its culture by Delhi-based defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who accompanied Panda on the chopper ride, to jail him for over six weeks for “hurting Odia sentiments”.
Successive DGPs have been shown the door for failing to toe the line of the powers that be. The latest to incur the wrath of the political bosses was Bijay Kumar Sharma, who was shunted out in the dead of night. The official explanation was that Sharma, the acting DGP who was all set to take over as the full-time one, had sat over applications for fire safety clearances for long periods—hardly an offence that merited the midnight humiliation of a man known as the government’s blue-eyed boy. The real reason, say those in the know, was that he had dared to order the sealing of a new mall in which some ruling party leaders allegedly had a stake, for encroaching on public space and not possessing the required fire safety licence.
Earlier, the then DGP Prakash Mishra was removed after the 2014 elections, allegedly for refusing to look the other way while police vehicles and even ambulances were used to ferry cash to be distributed to voters in the run-up to the polls. The government also took the unprecedented step of launching a vigilance case against Mishra, which was thrown out by the Orissa High Court with a severe stricture against the vigilance chief for showing extraordinary alacrity in carrying out the orders of his political masters. More strictures followed when the government challenged it in the Supreme Court in a bid to stop Mishra from becoming the CBI chief. While the government, which feared he could create problems in the mining and chit fund scams, was left red-faced, it managed to get what it wanted. K.B. Singh, the vigilance chief, was appointed the DGP in Mishra’s place!
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar