Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Aug 16:
After a host of ruling party leaders, it is now the turn of BJD supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to be in the dock over links with arrested self-styled god man Sarathi Baba. A photograph of five inmates of the Sarathi Ashram in Kendrapara handing over a cheque of Rs 1 lakh meant for the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF) to the Chief Minister, aired exclusively by Kanak TV today, has now gone viral.
The picture showing a smiling Patnaik accepting the giant cheque from the Sarathi Baba followers and happily posing for the customary photo-op has raised eyebrows on at least two counts.
First, questions are being raised how the Baba’s followers got access to the Chief Minister’s Third Floor office in the state secretariat when it is well-known that even cabinet ministers find it difficult to get there. Even journalists, who normally enjoy unhindered access to any place, can meet the Chief Minister only with a prior appointment granted by his office which, as anyone with first hand experience knows, is as difficult as extracting water out of a hard stone.
To his credit, Naveen Patnaik, unlike many other politicians, has never encouraged Babas and god men or women in his 15 years as Chief Minister. But the fact that the Baba’s followers managed to get where people much more important than them find difficult to go raises the question if there were some powerful forces within the party, the government or the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) who facilitated the meeting.
Secondly, a good samaritan tea vendor in Bhubaneswar who, perturbed by the non-functional CT scan machine at the Capital Hospital here, had saved and contributed Rs 18, 000of out of his meagre income for the repair of the machine to the CMRF, not only did not get the photo-op with the CM, but also had the cheque returned to him by the CMO without so much as a ‘Thank You’ note.
Whatever was the reason for the rejection, this suggests that the CMO does make necessary verification before accepting a contribution to CMRF from a person or an organisation. So, how is is that it did not do due diligence in the Sarathi Baba case? And if it did, how it could not find out that it was money either looted from the gullible bhakts through fraud or contributed to his ashram by his own MLAs from their local area development (LAD) fund? After all, the Chief Minister also doubles up as the Home minister and thus has the entire police, intelligence and other agencies directly under his control.
Also in the dock is former minister and senior BJD leader who, in a photograph shown on television channels today, is seen sitting on the floor before a picture of the Baba in all reverence.
Nanda, however, has rubbished reports of his proximity with the Baba. “I have never met the man in my life. Even then (he was presumably referring to the time when the picture was taken), I know this man was taking the people for a ride and playing with their religious feelings,” he told Kanak TV.
But he did not bother explaining what, in that case, was he doing sitting on the floor with his hands folded in front of the Baba’s picture?