Odisha-based social activist Dandapani Mohanty has agreed to end a week-long fast to protest against his incarceration for alleged Maoist activities – a charge he denies vehemently. He has been denied bail in 19 cases that suddenly cropped up after years. His son is also in jail since December, 2012 for 11 cases.
Mohanty went on a symbolic fast from Independence Day to protest against the cases lodged against him for allegedly being a Maoist. He had also written to the Governor demanding withdrawal of the cases against him, political prisoner status and punishment for police officials responsible for custodial and fake encounter deaths. Mohanty decided to end his fast after his wife and some activists met him and fearing for his health, asked him to conclude the fast. His son, Sangram also vowed to end the week-long fast that he began on the day after his father did.
Recently, TEHELKA had highlighted the plight of the father-son duo who were arrested for being Maoists. Behind the obvious, there is the changing political reality of Odisha: Pyarimohan Mohapatra, former Chief Adviser to Odisha CM, Naveen Patnaik, broke away from the BJD to form his own party for which he spoke to grassroot leaders like Mohanty and his son. Mohanty’s son joined hands with Mohapatra last year.
Sangram Mohanty, a contractor and law student, was picked up a few days after joining Mohapatra allegedly for supplying weapons and other supplies to Maoists in the Gajapati-Ganjam-Kandhamal tri-junction area. A local butcher in his hometown said that the 30-year-old businessman had been picked up from near his house. According to his mother, Geetanjali Mohanty, this stands to reason since Sangram had left his house with some money to get repairs done on one of his trucks and was supposed to return for a law exam that day.
That evening, Dandapani Mohanty met with this reporter in Brahmapur while sleuths of the Odisha police special branch kept watch. He described his career as a former member of ultra-left groups in the 70s and 80s and how he had spent several years underground and in jail during that period. Disillusionment with the ultra-left made him give up that life and take up activism for tribals and other causes in Odisha.
Although Mohanty was no longer associated with ultra-left groups, the Maoists still respected him. Last year, when they abudcted Italian tourists and a BJD MLA (Jhina Hikaka), the Maoists named him as the interlocutor for negotiations with the government. The government, finding it an easy solution to an incident with international coverage, agreed readily.
“The Maoists wanted me only because I am not a government stooge. My work is centred around the cause of tribal people and the poor of Odisha,” Mohanty said. He was also critical of the Maoists: “They are an unorganised bunch. Where is their presence amongst the people today? They have not bothered to work properly amongst the downtrodden people. Just picking up guns and merely saying you are espousing the tribal cause does not help.”
After his son’s arrest, Dandapani agitated for his release and went on hunger strikes. On 8 February, he was also arrested for pending warrants in two old cases. A few months later, he was charged in another 15 cases. On 31 July, two cases were added to this. He was given bail in six cases and then shifted from R Udaygiri jail to Parlakhemundi in Gajapti.
“We approached the High Court for bail since the lower courts did not grant bail. But, the High Court is reluctant to give him bail since the state has put charges of being a Maoist on Dandapani and his son. If you go by the state’s charges, in 2004 he was wanted by the state and even as there were pending warrants in 2011, he was a state interlocutor living in the state guest house,” said Narendra Mohanty, convenor, Campaign Against Fabricated Cases.
Sangram Mohanty is a likely victim – partly due to his political ambitions and partly due to the state’s reaction to his father’s activism. Dandapani was convinced that the state was reacting to his activism for tribals. But Sangram Mohanty had his own political ambitions – he had formed a political organisation and floated an NGO in his ancestral village. With little development reaching such villages, he found a gathering which was willing to support him and and which would give traction to Pyarimohan Mophapatra’s political movement against Naveen Patnaik’s BJD.