Black is the new red for Odisha’s ruling dispensation. Any hint of black around BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is perceived as a sign of protest and resistance. So the frenzied party activists and police think and do not hesitate to retaliate instantly.
In July BJD supporters led by a party MLA unleashed an assault on hapless supporters of BJP for merely staging a black flag demonstration at Boudh. In Mayurbhanj, a few weeks ago, a demonstrator at Naveen’s public meeting was ruthlessly thrashed by partymen in full police view when he tried to hoist a black flag and hurl an egg at the chief minister who was on the stage at a distance.
The party activists even launched an attack on a bunch of BJP workers during the latter’s dawn-to-dusk Bhubaneswar bandh triggering a free-for-all on the streets of the capital last week. So much for democracy in the state. For, the party which has been in power for the 17 years has lately developed a terrible sense of intolerance towards opposition of any kind. So paranoid has become the party that its activists had the temerity to heckle two Union ministers at Sambalpur in June, something unprecedented in the state.
Call it arrogance or growing insecurity, the paranoia has had an infectious effect on the state administration which is now bending over backwards to please the political bosses.
At Bargarh and Sundargarh recently, police and the civil administration, in their bid to prevent any embarrassment to the chief minister, even forced girls and women to take out their black dupattas, jackets and scarves before entering a ground where Naveen addressed a public meeting, because anything black as part of your attire was viewed as a possible mark of protest, which might anger the supremo. That is what the state police intelligence and ruling party strategists thought.
The issue had snowballed into a huge controversy forcing Naveen to express regret on the floor of the Assembly and an inquiry was ordered into the incident. But the act was repeated by the overzealous police when men and women wearing anything black were asked to remove those at a public rally in Jeypore which Naveen addressed last Thursday.
This paranoia had its beginning last year when some members of the student wing of the Congress hurled eggs at the chief minister’s carcade in Bhubaneswar.
Ever since the police have displayed a precautionary phobia that is unparalleled. The protective cover of the BJD supremo stands beefed up multifold now.
Naveen, who earlier used a bare-necessary security detail, is now cause of severe inconvenience to the public.
These days, much before he ventures out of his office or residence, everything comes to a standstill in the route he would take. A few days ago the administration foiled a farmers’ convention in Bhubaneswar because their leaders had once tried to block the chief minister’s cavalcade.
Naveen may not be directly responsible or even aware of the antics of his overzealous administration, but they are doing him more harm than good by alienating him from the very people who gave him a historic mandate for the fourth successive time. Not known for his contact with the people, the BJD supremo could fast be losing whatever little connect he has with his voters if the trend continues.
He would do well to step back a little in time and see what his illustrious father did to tackle opposition. Years before Naveen made his foray into politics, a late Parliamentarian, Khagapati Pradhani, had shot off an angry letter to Biju Babu, then chief minister, drawing his attention to a particular incident of stone-pelting he faced from the latter’s partymen.
The inimitable Biju Babu was quick to respond, like only he could, with a piece of advice for the nine-time Congress MP from Nabarangpur. In politics, he replied, bouquets come along with brickbats and one must take those in one’s stride.
In 1993 the late leader faced a murder bid at the Secretariat. He showed no vindictiveness. Around the same year, a youth pelted a stone at him at Bhawanipatna, leaving Biju Babu with a bloody nose. An unfazed Biju instructed the police to round up the youths involved and produce them before him next morning. After a few minutes of admonishment, all six were let off and no case was registered against them. Naveen, for once, could use the political wisdom showed by the great man whose legacy his party is carrying.
Resident Editor, Odisha