CM NAVIN: BOTH THE ARCHITECT AND VICTIM, OBSERVES SAMPAD MOHAPATRA


Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Eminent Journalist Sampad Mohapatra, in a note has expressed deep dismay over the official attempt to kill the zeal of journalists to unveil maladministration in Orissa.

Visitors to these pages know, Laxman Choudhury, a rural reporter based at Mohana, has been a victim of police vengeance and framed up under charges of sedition.

The Court concerned has not paid expected judicial mind to see how acceptance of a closed packet of papers, allegedly ultra-left leaflets, could be read as an act of sedition. But the reporter, who received the packet as a routine act media activity, has been thrown into the jail as an under trial criminal!

Shocked over such ruthless oppression, the Bhubaneswar based journalists had in a delegation met the Chief Minister seeking withdrawal of the misconceived charges of sedition to save the rural reporter from the motivated police and its obliging elements in judiciary. The CM had also assured them of that. But the journalists had to soon experience how meretricious was Navin Patnaik

This being an instance of misuse of police power, the Home-cum-Chief Minister seen unwilling to encourage the Press to expose police malfeasances by standing with the illegally jailed journalist, the journalists from all streams of media had to offer a collective protest rally before the Governor House in order to attract attention of the Governor to the misrule that runs under his name. But the administrative environment has become so polluted that the same rally of scribes has gone inconsequential so far.

The extent to which the fourth estate has been harmed by the present regime is discernible in the very fact of cowering away of media owners and organizational bodies from protesting on records against the sinister steps of police against Chowdhury.

Mahapatra’s mail, meant for fellow journalists, has most speaking relevance for applied democracy. Hence I prefer to circulate it verbatim here below:

A month has passed since our Mohana-based fellow journalist Laxman Choudhury was arrested and jailed on fabricated charges that he was hand-in-gloves with the outlawed CPI Maoist party. The only evidence that the local police managed to gather was an envelope addressed to him that contained 8 Maoist leaflets issued on the occasion of the Foundation day celebrations of the outfit. The conductor of a private bus who carried that packet for Choudhury was also arrested and jailed.

Strangely Ghai Majhi, the man named in the FIR as the person who handed over the so-called “incriminating material” to the bus conductor and asked him to deliver it to Laxman Choudhury is still at large. Reports from the area suggest that Majhi, a para-teacher at Raipanka village ( Gajapati district ) acted as a collaborator of the local police which wanted to teach Laxman Choudhury a lesson for exposing their links with the ‘Ganja’ Mafia and flesh trade. The police has made no efforts to arrest Ghai Majhi… for obvious reasons.

On the 6th of October the Additional District Judge rejected Choudhury’s bail application on the ground that charges of sedition were still pending against him. Sources say that the judge went to the extent of asking the police why they had dropped charges of ‘waging war against the state” but never asked them what evidence they had collected against Choudhury. The same day – that is a week after our first meeting with chief minister Naveen Patnaik questioning him about the false charges against Choudhury – the local police managed to get one Mr Ruben Gamang on their side and recorded his statement against Choudhury under Sec164 accusing him of Maoist links.

We have no doubts in our mind that the diktat of chief minister Naveen Patnaik does not carry much weight in the state. He is both the architect and victim of a system that simply does not mean what it says.

On 9 October 2009, that is the last time we met with the chief minister Naveen Patnaik on this issue we showed him hard evidence of how similar Maoist leaflets were sent to other journalists and were delivered by none other than the Postal department. The point we wanted to make is how the police were trying to using their powers to target media persons who ‘dared’ to expose their misdeeds and corruption as well as others who had little to do with Maoist activities. We also told him how the inefficient and ill-managed state police had defied his earlier instructions to drop charges against Choudhury, which he himself called “ridiculous” and were in fact behaving as an extra-constitutional authority with scant regard for basic human rights.

A cynical view could be that chief minister Naveen Patnaik was perhaps trying to take all of us for a ride with his ‘histrionic talents’ but during our meeting with him he “appeared disturbed” by the fact that the police had defied his instructions and promised immediate withdrawal of the charges of sedition slapped against Choudhury. He asked his Principal Secretary Mr Bijay Patnaik in our presence to take immediate steps to ensure the sedition charges were dropped against Choudhury.

But the sedition charges are still pending against our friend.

We soon found out that the state police headquarters was playing a double game. One group of senior officials were willing to concede that the charges leveled against Choudhury were outrageous and should be withdrawn immediately. At the same time another group ‘senior officers’ who occupy positions of authority wanted to give vent to their ‘frustrations’ by doing everything possible to provoke a media vs state government confrontation. This has little to do with Laxman Choudhury’s case and much much more to do with the sagging importance of these officers as also their personal rivalry with other senior police officials.

Once cheated, we did not take Naveen Patnaik’s assurances seriously. That is why 3 days later on the 12th of October 2009, a large number of journalists staged a protest dharna in front of the Raj Bhawan in Bhubaneswar demanding Choudhury’s unconditional release and condemning the high-handed and revengeful act by the state police No journalist association in the state nor the so-called defenders of civil and human rights barring a few came forward to support the protest action. Some media big bosses went to the extent of opposing our protest and said journalists accused of aiding the Maoists need to be hanged! Not a single newspaper in the state condemned the atrocious charges against Laxman. Some newspapers chose not to cover the protest at all. And some who covered the event with photographs stopped short of mentioning what had led so many scribes to protest !

That is the ugly truth about the Orissa media and their ‘powerful’ owners. Thankfully, despite all this negativism, journalists who took part in the protest volunteered to help Laxman’s case and donated Rs 10,000.00 on the spot.

However, journalists and lawyers in Parlakhemundi, headquarters of Gajapati district where Mohana is located, chose to take the matter to the High Court and decided to appoint senior and widely respected lawyer, Jagannath Patnaik as the counsel for Laxman Choudhury. We had little say in the matter but we thought it was a good decision.

We are told that Mr Jagannath Patnaik has taken a personal interest in Laxman’s bail petition and that the hearing will take place at the earliest and also that the weak evidence gathered by the prosecution will help his release from the jail.

Let me tell you, we have been accused of playing to the tune of the powers that be and ignoring the agony and pain of a fellow journalist who has been in jail for the last four weeks by some people people we respect but who unfortunately have chosen to keep silent so far. Surely, we are not guided or influenced by individuals who have personal agendas and axes to grind. At the same time we can not afford to ignore the fact that we have indeed been paying lip service to Laxman Choudhury’s case.

It’s time we take the battle to its logical conclusions. And also time for us to realize the police under Chidambaram’s regime are all set to terrorize the media into silence before they undertake a bloody war against Maoists- a set of people they are yet to define or describe with any degree of confidence. Call it quixotic or hilarious, the point we need to underscore is: it’s real.

Let’s get back to our original concern: Laxman Choudhury’s release.

Going by the system, one has to wait for the highest judiciary in the state to act as the defender of civil and human rights and order the release of Choudhury. If that does not happen, we need to worry about the manner in which our so-called democracy operates today and regulates the way we respond to the realities around us as members of the so-called Fourth Estate.

Let me know how you respond to the challenge.

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  1. Dear Subas Babu,

    Thanks a lot for your comments on attitude of Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik towards the journalists of Orissa.

    I was a member of the delegation of media persons who had met the Chief Minister on two ocacsions and on both occsions, he had assured us that all the cases against Mr Laxman Chaudhury would be dropped. In our presence he had asked his Principal secretary, Mr Bijoy Patnaik and another senior official
    Mr Promod Mohanty to take up the matter with high police officials and drop the charges against Mr Chaudhury.

    It was qute natural that we all present took up it as final words of the Chief Minister.

    But later we were shocked when we found that neither Mr Bijoy Patnaik, nor Mr Promod Mohanty, or the D.G.Police Mr Manmohan Praharaj carried out the wishes of the Chief Minister only to prove that what Mr Naveen Patnaik told to the media delegation was nothing but a ” big bluff”.

    It is also painful to note that though the police from top to bottom have disregarded the wishes of the Chief Minister and proved him to be very ” helpless” before them, strangely enough, the Chief Minister swallowed such insult and took no actions against the notorious police officers who had disregarded him. Moreover he also took no actions in ordering for probe by the R.D.C. Southern Circle to probe against the police men who had booked Mr Chaudhury because he had exposed their connections with Ganja and Sex racket.

    Though personally I was not expecting much from the administration to give relief to Mr Chaudhury, I was hopeful that the media in Orissa will take up the cause and ensure release of Mr Chanudhury and to ensure no media person would be booked under charges of “waging war against the State”, Sedation etc. without
    prior sanction of the Government. But unfortunately
    our ” influential” editors of newspapers and proprietors of Television Channels have thorrowly disappointed us. Ofcourse such indifference from our Editors and Proprietors are not new in Orissa. When I was victimised by the then Chief Minister J.B, Patnaik and was thrown out of my Govt. quarters in a winter night while my wife was undergoing treatment at the residence for suspected brain injury, and the police has ransacked all my valuable belongings including rare books, magazines, audio tapes and cash as well as gold ornaments of my wife and daughters, most of the Editors did not like to react except late Pradyumna Bal of Pargativadi. Some editors and journalist trade union leades supported the Government stand. Only a few small Oriya newspapers stood solidly behind me, while editors like Mr Arun Shourie, wrote two editorials
    about the Government attrocities on me in INDIAN EXPRESS. Natioanal news magagines likr the illustrated Weekly of India, ONLOOKER, the WEEK,
    SURYA INDIA etc. carried long stories about attrocities of Mr J.B. Patnaik on media persons which created tremendous pressure on Mr Patnaik and his Government as well as political people who were with him.

    While Pragativadi and the national media had taken up the case of rape and murder of Chhabirani Mohapatra by unscruplous businessmen and their political Godfathers, most of the local media had preferred to maintain silence.

    Similarly perhaps none of the lacal newspapers had shed a drop of tear for the great journalist Swarup Jena when he died due to illness caused follwoing police attrocities on him while covering a demonstration in the lower PMG area. Swarup Jena had died 25 years ago on 19th October. Most of the media persons seems to have forgotten him.

    All this happened because there is no strong unity among the media persons and the proprietors seldom care to safeguard the interests of the scribes serving with them.

    We the people connected with media in whatever capacity should not forget that ,what had happened to Swarup Jena 25 years ago and what has happended to Mr Laxman Chaudhury on 20th of September at Mohana are the end of attrocities by the criminal-minded police men and their political emntors. It is hightime that all the media persons and people who belive in freedom of press, freedom of expression, speech and human right should join hands together to fight against any assult/attrocities/cnspiracy to harass any media person or any law abiding citizen. I am sure no monster of power/police can defeat our cause at any point of time.

    ALL THE MEDIA PERSON UNITE…LONG LIVE MEDIA UNITY…LONG LIVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH…EXPRESSION AND LONG LIVE HUMAN RIGHT…..DOWN WITH CRIMINAL-POLICE NEXUS…

    Prasanta Patnaik,
    5RF/5, Unit-3, M.G. Marg,
    Bhubaneswar-751001.
    Mob: 9437005118.

    • Dear prasant babu,
      You are right in kindling remembrance of the nasty treat given to Press when J.B.Pattnaik was the CM.

      As you know, dismissed during emergency with instant cancellation of allocation of my residential accommodation and forced to stay away from Bhubaneswar, I was fighting against the management in the Labour Court on the one hand and on the other, was engaged against Sri Pattanaik as his arch political opponent in his constituency at Athgarh for the entire decade he was in power with such intensity and to such extent that the Congress had to offer me its MLA candidacy in place of him, which, as a leftist, I then had preferred to refuse. With the Communist Party of India, to which I belonged, surprisingly shying away under plea of paucity of funds, as I preferred to contest as a candidate of United Communist Party of India, Rajiv Gandhi had decided not to repose candidacy in J.B. but to support me. J.B. sabotaged the Congress decision and planted Umaballav Rath as an independent candidate and invested unfathomable massive money in his support to avenge his humiliation. Athgarh plunged into a political climate of consequential confusion, which ultimately helped Ranendra Pratap Swain to bag the seat by virtue of Biju purse that was next to J.B.’s in massiveness.

      However due to such enforced physical distance from Bhubaneswar I had to watch all the vicious, beastly attacks on Press specifically on you and beloved Kunibhai (Swarup Jena, whose youthful effervescence matching with alert wit and professional commitment was of no comparison) only through the reports in newspapers, notwithstanding how scanty were they.

      When Kunibhai and Chabirani were victims of instant brutality, you were the one, who was victimized through deliberate conspiracy cooked up by the administration.

      We, at Athgarh, had, under presidentship of late Comrade Braja Kishore Pattanayak, condemned that atrocity in public meeting, where, I remember, how he had aptly said, “No wonder, the journalists are tortured in this regime. The moon, whom the whole world loves to love, gets despised always by the thieves”.

      Your correct recapitulation of that period has brought back to memory the legend of Kunibhai and Braja Kishore Pattanayak as well as Chhabirani / Naba Mohapatra – all of whom in their respective sphere, had suffered so much for the betterment of society.

      You deserve all thanks for supplementing this report with the scenarios of the 1980s. Your reaction to the write up makes us conscious of how since those dark days official assault on Journalists has remained a regular feature with ever increasing ferocity.

      When in the 1980s, uncompromising journalists were being physically attacked, in the present regime, their souls are under attack with crudest possible arsenals like prosecution for sedition!

      If the process to destroy our national resolve for socialism was contrived by the government in the 1980s, the country has been pushed into the pernicious grip of imperialism by the present regime. And, imperialism cannot keep its grip on India tight if dedicated watchdogs are not demoralized. Prosecuting earnest journalists under charges of sedition is one technique that helps this evil design.

      You are right in your observation that owners of media organizations are silent over the assault on journalists. I think, there is nothing unusual. Economic offenders are now conspicuous by their ownership over media organizations and they mostly belong to a class that prospers by siding with imperialism. They don’t deliver information in deference to peoples’ right to be informed. They are in information trade to enter into and consolidate their respective positions in echelons of imperialism. And, they have their cohorts in ambitious ones amongst working journalists too.

      So we are not to be alarmed by the silence of media houses on framing up an uncompromising journalist under charges of sedition.

      We shall have to read the motive and rise in revolt, come what may.

      At the call of our conscience, on the premise of love for our motherland, with the strength of our commitment to human society, we have worked so far as we have worked and we will work as far as we can sans any fear, sans reluctance.

      And, the unmistakable reality is that working journalists, notwithstanding how their organizational office-bearers behave, are one with you in this just cause of journalism.

      I am adopting and requesting all friends to adopt your slogan:

      ALL THE MEDIA PERSON UNITE…LONG LIVE MEDIA UNITY…LONG LIVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH…EXPRESSION AND LONG LIVE HUMAN RIGHT…..DOWN WITH CRIMINAL-POLICE NEXUS…

      Kind regards,

      Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

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