The nationwide war mongering that has followed the Pulwama terrorist attack claimed its first victim in Odisha when Madhumita Ray, an assistant professor with the School of Rural Management in KIIT University, had to resign from her post for her anti-war and ‘anti-army’ views in a discussion on leading Odia TV channel Kanak TV on February 18. Notably, Achyut Samanta, the founder of KIIT, is also a Rajya Sabha member from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
There was a heated debate between Ray and a retired Colonel of Indian Army Purna Chandra Patnaik on the desirability of war with Pakistan with the former sticking to her ‘no war’ views and calling for a political process in Kashmir and the Colonel calling her an ‘anti-national’ on live television. Significantly, this particular edition of the popular show ‘Manoranjan Mishra Live’, however, is not available on the channel’s website.
Ray says she was asked to resign ‘within 24 hours’ by the university authorities two days after the show was aired on February 18 despite the fact that she was entitled to a one-month notice as per the terms of service. “I chose to resign rather than give up my freedom of expression. The next morning I got a message saying my resignation had been accepted, and within 15 minutes I had a man from HR in my room asking me to sign the relieving letter. I did not want to engage with anyone after that, so February 21 was my last day,” she says.
But the university flatly denied the allegation that Ray was forced to resign. “She has resigned citing some personal reason as per the information received from the HR department of our institute,” Ms. Shradhanjali Nayak, chief public relations officer (CPRO) of KIIT, told Outlook.
Asked why Kanak TV took down the show from its website, Tanaya Patnaik, Executive Editor, Eastern Media Limited (EML), the media house that owns the channel, said; “First of all, the show was never uploaded. So, there is no question of taking it down. Second, it did not go down well with the general sentiment at that point. That’s why we didn’t want to aggravate the issue further,” she told Outlook.
But how did the channel determine that the general sentiment was against the views expressed by Ray during the show? “Well, our Editor Manoranjan Mishra received a lot of phone calls after the show was aired. Then there were plenty of reactions on the social media too,” she said.
Patnaik, daughter of Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, the owner of EML and BJD Rajya Sabha member, also denied that the decision had anything to do with her father’s political affiliation. “It’s completely baseless. The decision had nothing to do with politics. It is just that given the mood of the people, we did not want to exacerbate the issue further,” Tanaya said.
Notwithstanding the denial of Tanaya Patnaik, there is no end to speculation that the decision not to upload the show on its website was taken after a nudge from the party supremo. What lends a semblance of credibility to the speculation is the fact that like the senior Patnaik, KIIT founder Achyuta Samanta is also a RS MP.
BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has acted according to the ‘public mood’ earlier too, most notably in the Abhijit Iyer case when he suddenly decided to drop all charges against the Delhi based defence analyst after keeping him in jail for over 40 days for some ‘anti-Odia’ tweets once he realised that sympathy for Iyer was growing among the people due to his long incarceration.