Column: Police to Law: “Stop, BJD leader ahead”

By Sandeep Sahu

The Smitarani Biswal case in Jajpur looks all set to go the way the Bebina, Itishree, Kanakalata, Madhabilata, Snehalata and the Kunduli cases have done before it: into a dead end. By now, it is abundantly clear to anyone who has followed developments in the case that Jajpur police has done everything it could to make sure the truth about the mysterious death of the Haridaspur panchayat extension officer (PEO) at the now sealed guest house of Rupesh Bhadra, husband of local sarpanch Madhusmita Bhadra, on October 16 afternoon remains buried for ever – as was the case in all the previous instances mentioned above.

As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the procedures followed in criminal investigation knows very well, it is well nigh impossible for any subsequent investigation by specialized probe agencies to unravel the truth in a case if the local police has bungled up the preliminary investigation because of incompetence or external pressure. (No prizes for guessing which of the two reasons was at play in this particular case!). The Arushi Talwar case in Noida and our very own Itishree Pradhan case in Tikiri are only two of the most recent examples of this. Given the lengths to which Jajpur police has gone to push its fanciful suicide theory, the Smitarani case is as good as dead even if it is handed over to the Crime Branch or the CBI under public pressure later. It is this realisation that must have forced the whole family of Smitarani to leave the village for good. It would remain a lasting shame on the entire state apparatus that it could not give justice or assure security to the victim’s family. But no one seems particularly bothered. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the powers that be would have heaved a huge sigh of relief now that they have one big ‘headache’ less to bother about (and muttered ‘Good riddance’ to themselves)!

If Jajpur SP Charan Singh Meena, deservedly on the opposition firing line, had thought he had settled all questions about the mysterious death of Smitarani at his ill-advised press conference on October 19, he could not have been more grossly mistaken. His assertion that it was a case of ‘suicide’ triggered by Smitarani’s ‘affair’ with Rupesh Bhadra, has thrown up more questions than it has answered. Even assuming that Smitarani did have an affair going with Rupesh, why would she suddenly decide to commit suicide – and that too barely minutes after telling her father over phone to feed her daughter since she was not coming home for lunch? If, as we are being told, Smita took the extreme step following an altercation with Rupesh over his affairs with multiple women, how come the others present in the guest house at the time did not know about it? If they did, why did not the police interrogate them about it and allowed them to go scotfree? What was the Ramco cement executive doing in what was essentially an assembly of BJD workers on the party chief’s birthday? Why was the body taken out even before informing the police or Smita’s family? Why was the body first taken to Badchana and then suddenly shifted to Jajpur for post mortem for no apparent reason? Where is the CCTV footage of the place and what does it contain? Why did a police officer ‘dictate’ the FIR lodged by Smita’s father? Did the police, as Smita’s husband Sushil has now alleged, try to browbeat him into silence by threatening to make public amorous pictures and videos of his wife and Rupesh public? Why did no senior official – except the BDO, that is – think it necessary to visit the victim’s family even once, even if only for formality’s sake? After all, she was a government servant who died an unnatural death during duty hours, wasn’t she? For that matter, why did no BJD leader turn up at Smita’s 11th day rituals even though they were invited by her father Sadananda? And last but not the least: how come Rupesh’ ‘Rangashala’, illegally built on forest land, was still standing – and thriving – at the time of the incident when the encroachment had been, as per the RI’s report, cleared and the encroacher ‘evicted’ in March, 2018?

The police knows it must answer all of these questions – and many more – to convince the people at large about the sincerity and integrity of the investigation. But as if remote controlled by some invisible force, it has not made any efforts to set the doubts at rest. Normally, the police follows all the leads and gathers all the evidence it can before coming to a conclusion based on them. But in this particular case, it seems to have been the other way round: the conclusion was arrived at first and then evidence ‘found’ to back this conclusion. All evidence that could run counter to the ‘conclusion’ drawn at the very outset was systematically ignored. From Bebina to the Kunduli girl, we have seen this charade being played out numerous times. Smitarani is only the latest addition in the long list.

It is inconceivable that the police would go to such length just to protect a petty leader of the ruling party even at the cost of having scorn and ridicule poured on it and causing the government so much embarrassment. It is clear that the police is doing what it is doing to protect those who protected the shady and illegal deeds of Rupesh over the years. It was with their patronage that Rupesh made the transition from a small time trader to a man rolling in money in a few years’ time. The faceless godfathers are obviously fearful that their nexus with Rupesh and involvement in his shady activities would come out into the open and cause them embarrassment in public (maybe even cause the loss of their present standing in the party), if the law, as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is so fond of saying, ‘takes its own course.’

By now, it has been proven beyond a shred of doubt that the law in Odisha takes it own course – only till it runs into a BJD leader!!

 

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)