Journalism in Jolt // CM blackmails Soumyaranjan into silence

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

I was shocked to see how Orissa’s media almost utterly outcasted Sri Soumyaranjan Patnaik, Editor of Sambad, in the slugfest between him and the Chief Minister, when political environment is agog with approaching footfall of election-2024. Journalism jolted in Orissa.

Soumyaranjan had fallen in the political honeytrap of Naveen Patnaik and under his instruction, had wanted me to dissolve the Bhasha Andolan, with weakening words that the CM was ready to amend the Orissa Official Language Act, 1954 as per my proposal in the Ministerial Committee. The CM’s treachery in its amendment in 2016 entirely in mind, I refused to dissolve the campaign before proper amendment of the Act. He had threatened me with total blackout of Bhasha Andolan in his media if I reject his request. And, that had happened, even though he was till then the strongest supporter of Bhasha Andolan. 

I was really shocked.

But the irony is so dramatic that the same Soumyaranjan has been forced under circumstances created by the same Naveen Patnaik to abdicate his position in the same Sambad when the Campaign is continuing nonstop despite subterfuge resorted to by my close colleagues gained over by the Chief Minister.

His desire to dazzle in politics had derailed Soumyaranjan, as happens normally to power seekers. But his conscience must have hit him hard, as otherwise, he might not have done anything to get dismissed from the party, to join which he had so surprisingly sabotaged the Bhasha Andolan.

I recall his speech, a portion of which Advocate Prakash Chandra Mohanty had posted in Facebook on August 10, 2021 for reference:

His criticism to malfunctioning of administration did not end with the above speech. We find him frequently pointing out the lapses in administration. In fact, he was doing, what he was supposed to do as a leader of the people.

The Chief Minister knows that by criticising the malfunctioning of administration, no member of the ruling party commits any offence. Party whip doesn’t apply beyond voting in the Assembly. Therefore, he was using his colleagues, like former minister Arun Sahoo, ministers Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak and Pramod Dev to instigate Soumyaranjan to resign from the Party if he was dissatisfied with the functioning of administration run by the Party’s government.

Over and above his speeches in public forums as a leader, he also pointed out in his editorial column in Sambad the severe lapses of administration. The Chief Minister kept mum over that, as the allegations Soumya raised in Sambad were too factual to be contradicted.

Soumya had two platforms. (1) Political platform, i.e. the BJD and (2) Media platform, i.e. Kanak Mews apart, the Sambad. In both these platforms he was free to castigate the administration for malfunctioning. Law was in his support.

The Chief Minister, therefore, cooked up a conspiracy to oust him from both these platforms. It was a very heinous, yet a quite brilliant conspiracy.

He used Sambad as the vehicle for dismissing Soumya from the BJD, inter alia putting the paper in a menacing muzzle.

All of a sudden, official ads were off-the-records denied to Sambad. A section of former employees of the newspaper, currently serving rival media outfits, was organised to raise nonexistence allegations against Soumyaranjan Patnaik, which were surprisingly entertained by the Crime Branch of Orissa Police as valid instances of economic offence leading to atrocious raids on his media house premises by its economic offence wing (EOW).  If the allegations should have been entertained by the Government, it could have first verified if the same legally exist and if under any imagined yardstick it would have appeared existing, then action under the labour laws for unfair labour practices could have been taken. No court under the sky of India would ever treat unfair labour practices as economic offences, that too, in absence of any bellyache for many decades.

While dismissing him from the Party, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who also is the Lord of his party that runs in his father’s name, has linked Soumya’s dismissal not to his speech or editorial against malfunctioning of the Government, but to dishonesty as the EOW has found him prima facie guilty of economic offences!

A totally dishonest Naveen Patnaik, who has perpetrated a Cabinet Scam to atrophy the Official Language Act through a fraudulent Bill, dismissing Soumyaranjan from his party on the ground of dishonesty is a murky matter that fellows in opportunistic politics may well enjoy. But for a journalist that addresses his report to the people, the fact of significance is that, Naveenbabu, who is ruling over Orissa since the 5th March, 2000, is also the home minister that controls the Police. In the climate that prevails, if he wants, the crime branch of Police can frame up charges against anybody whose criticism is irrefutable by and unbearable to their Minister, i.e. the Chief Minister. Therefore, when Soumyaranjan has been subjected to investigations for alleged economic offences by the crime branch of Orissa Police, it is assumed that the CM wanted him to be thus harassed.

As a campaigner for governance of my people in the language of my State, I am least perturbed over what politico-administrative action is taken against Sri Soumyaranjan Patnaik, the man who had sabotaged Bhasha Andolan to get a berth in the Rajya Sabha from Naveen’s party. But, as a journalist, I am certainly perturbed over the actions taken against him for his journalistic activities.

Stoppage of official ads to Sambad and resume of official ads to Sambad covers a span of time that deserves to be noted for the heinous conspiracy designed by the Chief Minister to create situations for Soumyaranjan, whose political speeches also were oral  journalistic reports to the general public, to abdicate editorship of the paper, which he founded and made the most read and trustworthy through exemplary dedication to the cause and purpose of journalism.

Democracy is certainly in danger, when a Chief Minister blackmails a newspaper editor into silence, with other media houses keeping mum under unuttered fear.

For anybody who watches how journalism is taken in Orissa, this episode gives a call to be noted.


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