Tying Oneself In Knots, BJD Style

When your intentions are not above board, you invariably end up tying yourself in knots. And that is what the BJD and the state government have done in two separate cases: the suicide by the Kunduli victim and the suspension of Kendrapara MP Baijyant Panda from the party.

The startling revelation this evening by OTV of the report submitted by the Odisha State Forensic Laboratory (OSFL), which found semen samples of two different men on the victim’s clothes, has demolished in one fell swoop the painstakingly constructed theory sought to be sold by the government and the ruling party through selective leaks in the media after the death of the girl on Monday that there was no rape at all and the whole thing was actually a case of teenage love gone awry! Not only does it prove that the entire effort of the police from day one has been directed towards proving the girl’s claim of gang rape wrong rather than bringing out the truth. It also proves that the state police – and, by extension, the state government – are so consumed by their determination to disprove the teenage girl’s rape claim that they don’t even mind suppressing facts from a statutory authority like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)! [While the Crime Branch report submitted to the NHRC says there was no evidence of rape and the girl’s virginity was very much intact, the report of the OSFL, another state government agency, proves rape by at least two men.]

Of course, given the lengths to which it has gone to sweep the truth under the carpet, it is entirely possible that the government would now come out with the claim that the OFSL report unearthed by OTV is fake. But any such claim would have zero credibility. Even if the government manages to get away with rubbishing the OSFL report, there is always the possibility of something as damning – or even more damning – surfacing in the days ahead because truth has a way of finding its way out no matter how much and how hard one tries to bury it.

The ruling party must have thought that it had taken the wind out of the sails of the gathering storm over the suicide of the Kunduli victim by announcing the decision of Jay Panda’s suspension on Wednedsday. [In private conversations, BJD leaders actually marveled at the supremo’s wonderful ‘sense of timing’!] But alas! Not only did the storm over Kunduli refuse to fizzle out, it threw up uncomfortable questions about the suspension itself. The press release announcing the decision issued by senior leader and Food and Civil Supplies minister Surjya Narayan Patro last evening proved that the ‘probe’ by two party observers – Usha Devi and Paramila Mallick – ordered by the supemo was just a charade to create the grounds for the Kendrapara MP’s suspension, a decision that had clearly been taken even before the inquiry was ordered.

The press release made no mention of the allegations made by party workers from various parts of Kendrapara parliamentary constituency who met Naveen in batches in the recent past and complained about Panda’s alleged cold shoulder to them, the inquiry supposedly conducted into these allegations by Usha Devi and Pramila Mallick or the report submitted by them. Instead, it raked up Panda’s business connections, his alleged desire to become the Chairperson of the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Finance after the 2014 elections and his alleged campaign against party candidates – and for the Opposition – during the panchayat elections last February. (Significantly, neither Patro nor any other party leader refused to speak anything other than what was contained in the press release though the ebullient Debashish Samantaray did let the cat out of the bag by talking of Panda’s barbs at the ‘Third Floor’.]

The question that inevitably follows is if this was the sum and substance of the charges against Panda, then why did the party leadership wait till now? The panchayat elections took place nearly a year ago while the ‘conflict of interest’ issue in Panda wanting to become the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Finance is nearly four years old! What exactly was the supremo waiting for? And why?

If the party leadership had made up its mind to suspend Panda from BJD, his recent acts of defiance, expressed through tweets, writings and statements in violation of the party diktat, constituted enough grounds to do so. There was no need to rake up his business connections. In doing so, the BJD has unwittingly allowed questions to be asked of itself – in the matter of electricity dues waiver given to the company owned by Panda’s family by its own government, for example.

No one, including this columnist, believes Panda’s exit would affect BJD in any significant way. But the way the party has been going about its business, it would certainly pay a price for it.