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Mrunal Manmay Dash

From beating up police officials, Block Development Officer (BDO) to assaulting journalists covering blatant booth capturing and rigging incidents, this Panchayat election in the State has witnessed almost every possible form of violence.

However, the thrashing of three journalists at Bachola in Jajpur’s Binjharpur Block grabbed much attention and condemnations as well from all quarters, with veterans terming the trend as a ‘threat to democracy’.

“Election being the foundation of democracy needs to be conducted in a free and fair manner. When the exercise gets marred by cheating and violence, the role of the journalists becomes all the more vital. The reports from the ground by journalists show the mirror to the establishment. And, when these scribes face the ire of the politically motivated miscreants fearing their misgivings might get exposed by the media, democracy itself comes under threat,” said a noted journalist with a vernacular daily in Bhubaneswar.

An analysis of the spate of attacks on journalists-- from Kanas in Puri to Dhankanal, Nayagarh, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak- shows that the reporters are the targets of the miscreants this election.

In a recent example, some villagers forcefully released an accused at Santaragadia Chhak under Balasore’s Nilagiri from the Police custody. The accused had been rounded up on charges of attacking a journalist covering alleged poll rigging.

In a similar incident, a former Zilla Parishad member belonging to the ruling BJD, Ritanjali Patra, was seen rigging polls and executing threatening to reporters covering her act at the Badagallo booth under Bhadrak’s Fatehpur. Patra’s father-in-law is a Sarpanch nominee in the Panchayat.

While a probe has been ordered by the district Collector Trilochan Majhi, Patra denied the allegations and said that the video footage was a lie and voting was conducted at the booth peacefully.

Meanwhile, as many as 11 persons, including 6 women, have been arrested in connection with the attack on journalists in Bachhol Panchayat under Binjharpur Block of Jajpur district during the third phase of Panchayat polls on Sunday.

Condemning the incident, senior journalists from several media houses met the State Election Commissioner at Bhubaneswar on Sunday and demanded stringent action against the attackers.

Condemning the unabated attack on journalists, senior journalist Rabi Das said, “Enough is enough. This has to stop now. The poll riggers have found journalists as soft targets. The time has come the DGP writes to all the SPs to take the matter seriously unless they want to see our democracy sink in front of their eyes.”

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