Paranoia at its most ludicrous

By Sandeep Sahu

sandeep-sahu-dont-delete-plzEven by its own ignominious record of going to ridiculous lengths in its misplaced zeal to ensure that nothing goes wrong during Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s visit to any area, what Odisha police did in Sundargarh on Sunday was bizarre, to say the least. Asking women coming to the Chief Minister’s rally to take off their black scarves and shawls or risk being ejected from the meeting was paranoia at its most ludicrous. It was as if there was a latter day Dhanu hiding a bomb inside her apparel to blow up the Chief Minister with it a la Rajiv Gandhi!

Pray, what was the worst these women could have done if they were allowed in with their scarves/shawls on? One can think of nothing more diabolical than these accessories being used as black flags to demonstrate against the Chief Minister. The heavens would certainly have not fallen if they had been allowed to do that – assuming that they indeed had such an intemtion in the first place. After all, showing blacks is a perfectly legitimate way to protest in a democracy, right? What if some of them had worn black sarees or dresses on? Would they have been asked to take off their dresses too? Things can’t get more ridiculous than this, can they?

Of course, Odisha police has a shameless record in these matters that is unmatched in the entire country. People in Bhubaneswar have long got used to being stranded near Naveen Nivas, the Chief Minister’s residence, for up to half an hour at times, if they happen to be passing by the road in front while the Chief Minister is about to leave for office or is returning from office. Rounding up potential trouble makers, including women, several hours before the Chief Minister’s arrival is par for the course for this paranoid force. But things took a particularly bizarre turn after the ‘egg attack’ on the Chief Minister’s carcade (none of the eggs hit the CM’s car, mind you) while he was on his way to the Vani Vihar campus in Bhubaneswar to attend the students’ union function at Utkal University in February, 2015. Soon, reports started trickling in from all over the state about egg vendors being banished altogether or their eggs seized ahead of the Chief Minister’s visit to the place.

Even this was nothing when compared to what happened at an event on higher education at Jayadev Bhavan in Bhubaneswar in January this year. An hour or so into meeting, the audience as well as the organizers were stunned to hear an announcement on the public address system asking ALL of them to vacate the hall. Hordes of cops frisked everyone present, including the organizers, thoroughly checking their bags and other belongings even as another horde scanned, sniffer dogs in tow, every square inch of the forcibly vacated hall in search of the elusive eggs! Among the organizers was the Chairman of the Council of Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) and the Registrar of Utkal University and several eminent educationists. They must have felt terribly humiliated – more so because all of them had already been frisked once while coming in – but none of them raised so much as a whimper. After all, who would dare pick up a quarrel with the police when the matter involves the Chief Minister’s security?

It is nobody’s case that there were express instructions from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) to the Sundargarh district administration asking it to ensure that no black apparel finds its way into the rally venue. It was clearly a case of the police being ‘more loyal than the King’. But in the light of such incidents in the past, the CMO could have surely instructed the state police not to go overboard in its eagerness to provide foolproof security during his visits to a place. BJD chief spokesperson Amar Prasad Satpathy’s preposterous claim that the police had acted ‘as per protocol’ for VVIP security suggests that neither the party nor the government believes there was anything wrong with the move.

Mercifully, the Chief Minister, who never tires of talking about ‘Maaku Samman’ (Respect to Women) in an effort to prove his government’s pro-women credentials, has sought to make some amends, even though rather belatedly, by expressing regret and asking the DGP for a report on the excesses of Sundargarh police. But it is not clear why he couldn’t have done the same when the issue predictably flared up in the Assembly on Monday. His refusal to do so inside the august House suggests that the order for inquiry was an afterthought brought about by the realisation that the issue could snowball into a major embarrassment for the government what with the Opposition preparing to hit the streets on it in the days to come.

The contrast with Biju Patnaik, his father and the man in whose name he has ruled for 16 years, could not have been starker. The man who would never think twice before wading into a crowd of unruly people must be fidgeting in his grave at the depths to which his son (who, by the way, is also the Home minister of the state) has allowed his police to stoop in the name of his security.