A day before the third round of polling in Odisha, former minister and Pipli strongman Pradeep Maharathy was arrested by police on Monday for an attack on a Static Surveillance Team (SST) at his farm house late Sunday night, which left a magistrate, another official and a driver seriously injured.
He has been booked under various sections of the IPC like 307 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault or use of criminal force to deer public servant from discharging his duty), 332 (causing hurt to deter public servant from duty), 341 (wrongful restraint), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons, 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence in pursuit of common object), 171 (B) (bribery), 188 (disobedience of order duly promulgated by public servant) and Sec 123 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, said Puri SP Umashankar Das. “We have arrested him on the basis of the evidence we have against him. Efforts to arrest the others involved are on. We have also seized a bike and Mr. Maharathy’s car. He will be produced in court soon,” he said.
Lawyers say given the sections pressed against him, it will be extremely difficult for Maharathy to secure bail in the case anytime soon. “He will be first produced in the Junior Magistrate First Class (JMFC) court in Pipli, which has no power to grant him bail. It can only be granted by the district and sessions court in Puri and that too only if he is able to prove that he himself was not present at the place at the time. He can, of course, appeal if the verdict goes against him. But his chances of getting bail in the next 24 hours are extremely remote,” said leading criminal lawyer Madhu Madhab Jena. The Election Commission may also bar him from the election, say experts.
As per the complaint made by magistrate Rabindra Narayan Patra, the attack on the 15-member squad took place at Maharathy’s farm house at Hunkeipur near Pipli at about 11.30 pm Sunday. "We got information that money and liquor were being distributed at his farm house to influence voters. We went there to check this," said Patra, adding that Maharathy himself led the attack on them.
On his part, Maharathy has admitted to a scuffle at his farm house, but nothing more. In a video posted on social media before his arrest, he said; “I got information around midnight, when Pipli was plunged in darkness due to power cut, that a special squad had broken open the lock at my farm house. They questioned the officials about it and there was a scuffle. I am really sorry for the incident.”
When asked about the incident while being taken to the court by the police, however, the BJD candidate from Pipli said nothing more than “I will speak about it only in the court.”
The incident in Pipli is only the latest in what is turning out to be the most violent election in Odisha in recent memory. At least three persons – two of them BJP supporters and the third a polling official - have been killed while bombs have been hurled and supporters of rival parties have been violently assaulted so far. There were three incidents on Sunday only. In the first of these incidents, a bomb was hurled at the car of Jagannath Pradhan, BJP candidate in Bhubaneswar (Central). Shortly thereafter, PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik’s convoy was attacked, seven of his supporters injured and several cars damaged in an attack at Bhanadarigada village under Ramachandrapur police station in Keonjhar district. In the third incident, a crude bomb was hurled at Ananta Narayan Jena, ex-Mayor of Bhubaneswar and BJD candidate from the Bhubaneswar (Central) constituency, leaving him seriously injured.
On Saturday evening, six persons were injured, two of them critically, in a violent clash between supporters of rival parties at Kalikaprasad village in Nayagarh. There has hardly been a day in the last week or so when an incident of violence has not been reported from some place in the state.
While no party can be absolved of blame, BJD goons have been the perpetrators in a majority of cases so far. Political observers see this as the manifestation of the realization on the part of the ruling party that this election is not going to be the cakewalk it had assumed it to be.