By Sandeep Sahu
Nothing sells like sleaze. But when sleaze combines with crime and politics, it makes for an explosive concoction. And that is precisely what we have been witnessing for four days at a stretch now. The sex video allegedly featuring BJD leader and Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) Mayor Ananta Narayan Jena and its alleged links to the mysterious death of an engineering student Asutosh Mohanty alias Rishi in May this year have kept the media (especially television), political parties and NGOs in the state in thrall. Going by the media attention it has received, it appears not much else is happening in the state. The juiciest bits of the scandal are, of course, find place on social media because mainstream media cannot carry such stuff for obvious reasons. [The Bhubaneswar Civil Judge (Senior Division) may have restrained TV channels from airing the grainy footage, but there is no way it can stop the ‘fun’ on social media.]
Nothing new in this, though. We have all seen how we obsess over sex scandals for weeks together during l’affaire Sarathi Baba last year. That episode also had the volatile combination of sex, crime and politics – though not necessarily in that order. What we are witnessing in the aftermath of the scandal involving the Bhubaneswar Mayor coming to light is a virtual rerun of the events in August, 2015: demonstrations by political parties and others demanding the head of the ‘culprit’ (the ease with which we dub someone thus is surprising), supporters of the ‘culprit’ hitting the streets crying of ‘witch-hunt’ and amused people relishing every bit of it.
It has to be said though that people on both sides of the political divide are wrong. The demand for the ‘arrest’ of the Mayor raised by the Congress and BJP is as outlandish – at least at this stage – as is the outpouring of support for him. What is the basis on which the Opposition parties are demanding Jena’s arrest? After all, there has not been even an FIR against him. Even the family of Rishi has not brought any allegation against him. In any case, they have not yet lodged a formal appeal with the police. All that they have said they would ask for is the ‘reopening’ of the case relating to the death of Rishi, which was registered as an unnatural death (UD) case in the Khandagri police station and never investigated with any sincerity. Even if we assume that the man in the video is indeed Jena, it hardly warrants his arrest. As long as there is no formal police complaint of coercion or intimidation, no case is made out against him. After all, what people do in their private lives shouldn’t be anyone’s business if there is no incontrovertible evidence to prove it wasn’t consensual sex. It has to be said, however, there is merit in the demand for his resignation/sacking as Mayor because a fair probe into the allegation against him cannot take place while he continues to hold his post.
As for the other side busy crying wolf and giving a clean chit to the Mayor, they have no business doing so. Their claim that Jena is a good man who has done a lot for the people of Bhubaneswar in his capacity as Mayor may well be true. But it doesn’t automatically follow that the man seen in the video doing the rounds is not him. Or that the mysterious death of Rishi has nothing to do with the sex video that has gone viral. It is for the investigating agencies and the courts to find out whether he is guilty. If BMC staff and students of Rama Devi College really wanted to hit the streets on the issue, they should have demanded an impartial probe rather than give the Mayor a clean chit even before the probe has begun.
The Mayor himself has done his case no favours by going to the lengths he has to prove his ‘innocence’. His midnight vigil, along with supporters, at the Capital police station the day the scandal broke was completely unwarranted. He could have filed the case against his tormentors without this fuss. The demonstrations in his support are unlikely to have been organized without a discreet prodding from him. If he is indeed innocent, he had no need to go to such lengths to prove it. He could have waited for the investigation to exonerate him in due course. Given that he is the Mayor and a senior leader of the ruling party to boot, he has no reason whatsoever to apprehend that the police would ‘fix’ him.
It is thus in the interest of everyone concerned – the Mayor himself, the family of Rishi and the people at large – to allow the investigation to be completed without any interference or pressure from any quarters. Meanwhile, the Mayor must resign – or be sacked – to allow a fair probe. He can always come back if exonerated.