Are the Mohantys targets of a BJD witch-hunt?

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Family matters Social activist Dandapani Mohanty is now behind bars
Family matters Social activist Dandapani Mohanty is now behind bars. Photo: AP

When Sangram Mohanty was arrested last December, his father and social activist Dandapani Mohanty put it down to the State targeting his family for his activism. But it had come within a week of Sangram joining the Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM), a party floated by Pyarimohan Mohapatra, a former political advisor of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Mohapatra was expelled from the BJD following an alleged coup attempt against Patnaik last June when the latter was on a trip to London.

Protesting against his son’s arrest led to the police executing old non-bailable arrest warrants against Dandapani on 8 February. “The police had conveniently forgotten these pending warrants while the state government used him to negotiate the release of a district collector, two Italian tourists and a BJD legislator who had been kidnapped by the Maoists,” says Mohapatra.

Political analysts feel that the father-son duo is being targeted because the BJD wants to nip OJM in the bud.

After kidnapping former Malkangiri Collector Vineel Krishna in 2011 and two Italian tourists in 2012, the Maoists had named Dandapani as their interlocutor. When BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka was kidnapped in March 2012, he was appointed the state government’s interlocutor.

Dandapani later claimed that the Maoists had taken Rs 4 crore to release Krishna and Rs 2 crore for Hikaka’s release. The Maoists retorted that Dandapani must have taken the money and vowed to take action against him.

“I expected the government to stir up some trouble for me due to my activism, but did not expect my son to be arrested because he has nothing to do with my work,” said Dandapani. “They are now harassing my family.”

On 30 November 2012, Sangram, 32, announced that he had joined the OJM. On 5 December, the student of Ganjam Law College left home promising that he will be back soon. However, a few hours later, a friend informed his family that Sangram had been picked up by the cops.

The police claimed Sangram was arrested in Gajapati district for allegedly carrying arms and supplies to Odisha Maobadi Party leader Sabyasachi Panda. Panda, 44, had floated the extremist outfit after the Maoists expelled him following a tiff with the central committee.

However, a local butcher told Sangram’s family that he had witnessed the police pick up Sangram from near their house in Berhampur in Ganjam district.

Sangram wasn’t allowed to make any calls to his family or lawyer. He went on hunger strike and was shifted to a local hospital. A letter from Mohapatra made him abort the fast on 17 December.

Meanwhile, Sangram’s lawyer later told TEHELKA that he has been granted bail in two out of seven cases.

Dandapani continued agitating for his son’s release. On 8 February, the police arrested him claiming he had links with Maoists. He was charged in 15 cases, including murder and ‘anti-national’ activities, and is on judicial remand in R Udayagiri jail and has not been granted bail.

Dandapani had started the CPM district chapter in Ganjam and later joined the CPI-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) when it was an underground outfit. After this, he became a part of the extremist outfit CPI-ML (Party Unity). Altogether, he spent six years underground and several years in jail. There is yet no record of him being a member of the CPI(Maoist). He has said that the Maoist party is unorganised and “without any links to the real problems of the Odias”.

Rumour has it that Panda and his wife Subhashree, 38, are planning to join or support Mohapatra’s party. Panda enjoys popular support in many places and would help win elections. This appears to have unsettled the BJD.

Mohapatra had also known Panda’s father Ramesh Panda for many years. “I knew him since my college days when we were both members of the undivided CPI,” he says.

Subhashree had been arrested and held for being an alleged Maoist and for her links with the outfit. She was released soon after the Maoists released the Italian hostages. Subhashree hinted that she may be interested in joining the OJM but declined to comment about her husband, claiming she was not in touch with him. But, going by the way the BJD government has treated those who have joined the OJM, such a move could prove costly.

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