Analysis

A CATASTROPHE IN THE OFFING

Bhubaneswar: It’s cauldron that is most likely going to spell a disaster for Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his party. With every passing day, the pot is boiling with more heat and aggression, threatening to engulf those who have been misadventuring to shield the culprits in Kunduli gang-rape case.

The effect is largely reflected on the face of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Never did in his 18 years of rule, he appeared so much “nervous” and “worried” as he looks now. Every moment, the ghost of the 14-year dalit girl of Kunduli is hunting him and his government.

The mounting pressure from the opposition parties, the public and civil society organisations to order CBI probe into the incident has put him in a tight spot. The more he ignores the opposition demand for the CBI probe, the more trouble his is seemingly inviting.

Literally fumbling on the issue, the Naveen Patnaik government’s first reaction on the incident was to declare it as Red Flag case which meant that the progress of the investigation shall be monitored by the district superintendent of police. When the opposition dismissed this move as an “eyewash,” the chief minister on November 8, 2017 ordered Crime Branch and judicial probe by the local district judge.

The order for probe by the Crime Branch and district judge failed to pacify the anger of the Opposition which insisted on high-level impartial probe.

While the Congress remained firm on its demand for High Court-monitored probe, the BJP, at present the principal adversary of the BJP, – has made it clear that it would not accept anything other than the CBI probe.

Buckling under the pressure, Naveen on Wednesday changed his mind and order probe by a Special investigation Team under the supervision of the Odisha High Court.

The frequent change of mind of the CM on the probe matter is being viewed in political circles as his “falling support base” among party leaders who in the past stood lock solid behind him.

A section of party leaders is against Naveen for running the state administration allegedly under the guidance of V K Pandian, a junior Indian Administrative Officer (IAS) posted in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) as the CM’s private secretary. The leaders blame that the CM, instead of running the administration with the aid and advice of his party lawmakers, was governing in accordance with the “whims and fancies” of the IAS officer, jeopardising the interest of the state.

At least three leaders – Kendrapara MP Baijayant Jay Panda, former MLA Rama Ranjan Baliarsingh and former MLA Hema Gamang – have raised the banner of revolt against Naveen alleging interference of the IAS officer in party affairs and “doing little” to arrest the culprits involved in the gang-rape. They also hold the CM Naveen Patnaik responsible for the death of the gang-rape victim who on January 22 committed suicide after waging battle for nearly 100 days.

Before committing suicide, the girl hailing from Sorisapadar village and studying in Class V, had alleged serious mental torture by the state police to change her version. She has also alleged that she was asked by the men state director general of police to receive a bribe of Rs 90,000 to keep mum.

What has added to the woes of the CM is some unconvincing activities by his own administrative setup.

On October 27, 2017 Koraput district superintendent of police Kanwar Vishal Singh, quoting a medical report, – said the girl was never raped and the allegations made by her were false.

On November 7, 2017, the Additional Director General (ADG) of Human Rights Protection Cell (HRPC) of Odisha police, in a letter to the Odisha Human Rights Commission also denied rape of the minor girl.

The government faced a huge embarrassing situation when on January 25 the preliminary report of the State Forensic Laboratory (SFL) was leaked to media. The report clearly confirmed rape of the victim by mentioning that semen stains of at least two persons with Blood Group “A” and “B” were found in the inner garments of the victim.

The next day, the FSL apparently under pressure said the final report had overruled the rape of the girl. This reply, however, has failed to convince the opposition parties and civil society organizations. They have intensified their agitation against the state government’s inaction against the accused.

Former Congress MP from Nabarangpur, Pradeep Majhi, has charged that the CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) battalion jawans who were deployed in Kunduli area were surprisingly shifted to Kerela Kerla in the pretext of Navy training to cover up the incident.

The victim’s description of the appearances of the culprits has created doubt that CoBRA jawans were involved in the crime.

The Congress and BJP leaders of Koraput, burying their rivalry, have built an open-air temple at Kunduli with the statue of the victim established in it in honour of the girl’s brave fight against the state administration to “suppress” the incident as it would bring disrespect to the state police headed by the CM Naveen Patnaik.

Realising the gravity of the situation, BJP national president Amit Shah has constituted a team which recently visited the victim’s village and made an on-the-spot inquiry. The party also held Kokei Yatra (symbolic procession of CM Naveen Patnaik’s funeral) across the state to protest the government’s reluctance to hand over the case to the CBI.

A team of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is currently in Koraput meeting people of various sections, family members of the victim, her school teachers and friends, investigating police officers and doctors who conducted her medical examinations to find out the truth. The team would also meet chief secretary and director general of police to know the role of the state administration to give justice to the victim.

“Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik must not forget that in 1999 Anjana Mishra gang-rape case, the then Congress government had changed the FSL report. It also vainly tried to shield the culprits but finally CBI caught everybody and the culprits were punished. Finally, people of Odisha dealt the party a death blow and it is out of power in Odisha since 2000. The egoist BJD government will meet the same fate,” warned the Union minister and senior BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan.

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