BHARAT CHANDRA PARIDA
Shri Naveen Patnaik,
Hon’ble Chief Minister, Odisha
Dear Mr Chief Minister,
I am writing this open letter to you because you have closed all avenues that lead up to you for an aam admi like me.
On Sunday morning, you had come to my part of the town. Since your part of the town is out of bounds for people like me, I waited patiently for you at the neighbourhood shop, which is also the hub of the nearby basti, to tell you what I am now constrained to say in this letter.
I was not the only person waiting. The whole basti appeared to be on the roads; waiting to see you, to talk to you, to tell you their grievances, to shake hands with you. Among the crowd was my maid, who had taken a day off from the chores at my home to garland you. If nothing else, all of them expected you to speak a couple of words in your inimitable Odia. After all, this was the only time when they could expect somebody of your stature to deign to come to this godforsaken place where the air is thick with the smell of human shit.
But you did not oblige any of us. You came, we saw and you went – waiving your left hand at the assembled crowd with practised ease (Thank heavens for small mercies!). Hours of patient waiting went in vain as your car whizzed past. My maid, garland in hand, was almost in tears at being denied the opportunity of honouring you.
“That mere wave of the left hand is enough to ensure a win for the BJD candidate,” a young man quipped when another youth expressed his resentment at merely being waved at.
Do you need to do even that, I wondered. Even if you had never come to this filthy place, your candidate from the ward would have romped home. After all, he is not a fool to have paid upwards of Rs 40 lakh to the local MLA for the party ticket (as the shopkeeper faithfully reported to me after you left) if he was banking on your physical presence in the area to win here.
The other day, in another part of the city, your police (yes, that is what we the people believe it is) called a Congress candidate to the police station on a false pretext just as he was about to embark on the day’s campaigning and detained him for six hours to make sure that you have a hassle-free, waiving-at-the-crowd sojourn through his area. The poor chap was detained at 11 am, five full hours you were scheduled to reach the place.
“We had definite intelligence that he was planning to organise a black flag demonstration against the Chief Minister. He has even admitted that he was planning to do that,” the ACP said.
Even assuming that he was indeed planning to do precisely that, is it not a perfectly legitimate political activity, especially at a time when electioneering for the BMC polls has reached fever pitch? Couldn’t your police, with all the strength at its command, have rounded them up if and when they did stage such a demonstration or block your road? Or is it that you have lost faith in the ability of your own police to provide security to you after what happened in full public view near your office on December 24?
[As an aside, I find it amusing that you don’t have time for the woman with a garland in hand, but have all the time in the world for a man with a black flag!]
Life for the ‘mango people’ of Bhubaneswar has not quite been the same after that fateful day when a handful of activists had the temerity to appear from nowhere on the road in front of you. They never got anywhere near your carcade or posed any threat to your personal safety. But all of them, including their leader who was already on a fast for nearly a fortnight, were dumped in the Jharpada jail after being booked under Section 307 of the IPC among a host of other sections.
Section 307, my Lord? Are you – and your police – serious? Ask any one of the hundreds of people who saw the scene unfold before them if s/he believes the peaceful, unarmed Navnirman Krushak Sangathan (NKS) activists were attempting to murder you and I am sure they would laugh at you.
And unknown to you, they – and thousands of others who saw it on TV – are indeed laughing at you.
Here is something that may be of interest to you. In the nearly two weeks since the incident, at least a dozen friends and acquaintances have, by a queer coincidence, recreated the scene replacing you with your late father (May his soul rest in peace!) and then gone on to pontificate on how the great man would have dealt with the situation. Strangely, all of them have been unanimous in their opinion that he would have got down from the car and engaged the protesters or – at the very least – asked a couple of them to meet him in his office.
I am sure your proud ‘servants’ in the party and government would have heard discussions along these lines or may be even discussed it among themselves. But none of them would ever tell you about it because it may cost them their servant’s job which, by all accounts, appears more rewarding than the jobs of most masters!
Your ‘servants’ would have us believe that you are the darling of the masses. If that indeed is the case, who exactly are you afraid of? Why can’t you mingle with the people, talk to them and hear their grievances?
And, pray, what were these wretched creatures demanding? A pension of Rs 2, 000 and a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal for paddy farmers hit by Cyclone Phailin and floods in quick succession.
You did announce a bonus, though only of Rs 100 a quintal, three days after they attempted to ‘murder’ you, didn’t you? So, what prevented you from engaging them in a discussion and telling them why it was not possible to pay a bonus of Rs 500 and concede the other demand? Wouldn’t it have been much more honourable to emerge before the cameras together with the NKS leader and make the announcement?
Forget the law breakers for a moment and think about the law keepers. How did you treat them? At the top, you removed the Director, Intelligence, one of the finest officers you have, within hours for this ‘gross dereliction of duty’ despite the fact that he was not even in the state at the time! As if to prove that your all powerful axe cuts across class divides, you also suspended the poor SI of the Capital police station.
If the offence, in your view, was indeed of such a serious nature that accountability had to be fixed at the top, it the Home minister of the state who should have lost his job. You, as Chief Minister, should have sacked youself as the Home Minister!
Even as another Chief Minister was shedding all the trappings of power and privilege, we the aam admi had to endure a further expansion and tightening of your already stifling security apparatus. The security along 500 meters of the road on either side of the fortress which happens to be your residence, obtrusive at the best of times, has now become positively exasperating for ordinary commuters like me, who have no choice but to take the road daily.
The size of the no man’s land between you and the hoi polloi has grown progressively bigger. It has reached a stage where even your cabinet ministers have started feeling that they are no better than us. “I pray to God that the party does not get more than 60-65 seats this time. That is the only way this man would come back to terra firma,” one of your cabinet ministers was heard saying the other day.
Read the writing on the wall, Mr Chief Minister. The days of kings and monarchs are long gone. Feel the winds of change sweeping the country. Post Kejriwal, the janata, even in the state that you consider your fiefdom, is in no mood to put up with arrogant, autocratic and authoritarian netas.
So, get off your high horse before it throws you off its back!
Bharat Chandra Parida