By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, April 24, 2019: On the evening of 22 April, when most of the coastal Odisha was bracing to vote for the general elections, the so called muscleman MLA of Pipili, Pradip Maharathy, was nabbed by police and picked like a street criminal and tossed behind bars after the criminal court rejected his bail appeal. His crime was grave. Maharathy was hosting a big ‘dine and drink’ party for followers and probably piling up money to be paid as bribe to woo greedy as well as gullible voters.

The Election Commission watch dogs sniffed trouble and raided his farm house to be resisted violently by enslaved goons and hoodlums as was expected. Most astonishingly, the MLA candidate himself joined the attacking gang and beat up officials and hurled choicest abuses at them. He did dare commit this grave blunder with gay abandon for he believed the party honchos would appreciate his bravery and hail him as hero, and instruct the police to go soft and let him go free. That did not happen. The Naveen administration never interferes with the police action; it rather encouraged the force to take severe action as per law. Thus Maharathy is now languishing in jail and wondering if he had ever known the boss well enough.

Incidentally, on 17 April, Naveen landed in Rourkela after a chopper journey. As was never expected, the EC watchdog officials swooped in on his helicopter and checked the whole flying machine after routinely frisking the CM and his companions. Naveen remained perfectly cool, composed and extremely cooperative as he knew too well the officials were performing their duty.

These two acts of Naveen’s have most certainly elevated his ‘statesman image’ beyond limits.

In contrast, just two days earlier, on 15 April, during a whirlwind tour of PM Narendra Modi across Sambalpur, a poll observing officer from the Election Commission got Modi’s helicopter checked as per the ‘blue book guidelines’. Modi became visibly irritated though he did not speak out against the routine move by the thoroughly trained official team headed by a Karnataka-cadre IAS officer.

The Election Commission on hearing this instantly suspended the official and released a press note saying ‘no SPG protectee is to be frisked or his transport machine checked for anything, no matter what’. Modi never once condemned the official action against the duty-bound poll official, which would have catapulted his stature to dizziest heights. Modi seemed to have agreed with the wrong move by the EC. What is not made clear is that during elections, the ‘blue book’ is to be followed in absolute letter and spirit unlike in ordinary times, no matter how colossally dignified or important the character be.

The suspension came after the poll body sent a one-man enquiry team to Odisha to investigate the matter. According to the ECI order, the official, Mohammed Mohsin, deputed as a special observer, had not acted in conformity with the ECI’s instructions. Educated and sensible citizens have not taken well Modi’s complete silence on the matter. They say even if the checking or frisking acts were wrong, the PM should have displayed strength of character by ignoring the observer’s act. Modi did not utter a word of appreciation or disapproval.

Interestingly, the union minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been ruthless in his criticism for inspection of Modi’s helicopter, which has sparked quite a big deal of public criticism, especially when a video of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is making round on social media showing him cooperating with the Election Commission officials while being frisked and his flying machine being raided. This episode has hit the headlines. Instead of using power and being boastful, Patnaik is seen extending all cooperation to the Election Commission surveillance team inspecting his chopper. Around the same time, Dharmendra Pradhan is seen ranting and raging in mad fury over the matter. Calling the poll official names.

“This raid on PM’s chopper should have been used to demonstrate that the law is equal for everybody”, says Quraishi ruefully, who was India’s Chief Election Commissioner between July 2010 and June 2012. Quraishi has termed the suspension of an IAS officer for searching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s helicopter in Odisha as frighteningly ‘unfortunate’. He also says the incident has gone waste as a missed opportunity.

The same could have easily restored the image of both the PM Narendra Modi and the EC as both these institutions have been under the public scanner for quite sometime. PM is known for repeatedly violating the model code; and the EC religiously overlooking it. In one simple stroke, the intense criticism against them would have come crumbling down. Unfortunately, both chose the wrong course perhaps because ill fate was in store for them.

Meanwhile, at briefings for the following phases of polling, EC officials have been repeatedly asked to provide a copy of the instruction under which the observing official was suspended. The EC officials have responded saying that the instruction was part of the overall manual issued by the poll panel from time to time. However, there has been no clarity yet as to whether the instruction barred search of PM’s convoy or the aircraft.

The 2019 general elections do appear so complex as making forecasts has become nearly impossible. Master sephologists have either been grumbling or keeping mouths shut as analysis of the people’s psyche has become the most difficult proposition. Pulse reading shows bizzare trends and patterns. One pollster says the NDA will grab 310 while another gives only 172.

Odisha remains mystical as always. Grand masters have gone haywire in mind and projected weird figures. One says BJP will grab 15 Lok Sabha seats; while some other credible agencies indicate 16 Lok Sabha seats guaranteed for the Naveen-headed party. Amit Shah and his cronies scream 120 Assembly seats are already in pocket. Sane pollsters laugh it off and grant BJD between 90 and 100 seats, saying the BJD roots are magically deep, strong and unbreakable.

There is a great deal of rumour about BJP not investing much money in Odisha to back candidates as there is no CM face available yet and the local cadres have not been formed as yet. Furthermore, some of the known big leaders have been conspiring and plotting against colleagues in fear of losing importance.

All said and analysed, the BJD is still the invincible one. No matter how big the talk of a strong undercurrent of BJP and winds of Modi-wave, the ultimate results will come in favour of the BJD. The masses, the urban and rural poor are incredibly Naveen-soaked. The ordinary voter does not care a fig for who is the individual candidate; he or she is looking only for the ‘Conch’ symbol button on the EVM to dig the finger into.

Congress and BJP will jointly have to be content with, at the most, five Look Sabha seats- one and four respectively. Similarly if BJP manages 30 seats in all, they can celebrate for the rest of the tenure across five years. Congress is a distant contender to rejoice with ten seats if at all fortune smiles on them accidentally. Poll masters say, “It’s very difficult to say how Naveen wins so easily!”

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of