New Delhi: A harmless joke can get you arrested in Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha and the champions of free speech will maintain stunned silence because the person in question has a different set of political beliefs.

Welcome to the world of hypocrisy. The man who has created a furore and supposedly brought the Odisha government into a standstill is Abhijit Iyer Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). What started off as a sarcastic joke on erotic murals and sculptures on the Konark temple, is now being used as an alibi of ‘hurting religious sentiment’. An FIR has been lodged against Iyer-Mitra and he has been arrested from Delhi.

Sources say Abhijit is arrested under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which suggests injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class. Odisha Police is seeking a police remand and will also seek a transit remand to take him to Odisha.

Abhijit’s friend and scientist Anand Ranganathan sees a design in this. Speaking to MyNation, he said, “The video was clearly sarcastic in nature. Tomorrow is a holiday and then comes the weekend when a bail cannot be applied. So the police have strategically timed his arrest”.

But let’s go back to the alleged incident, that has now sparked off a row. What did Iyer-Mitra actually say? In a video shot at the Konark temple, he is heard saying, rather sarcastically, “This is not a temple but h*****. All the characters (sculpted for years) are h******”, referring to the erotic act sculpted in and around the age-old temple. Eroticism wasn’t a taboo in Indian mythology, as well as in Hinduism in its early form. Not only Konark, but the famous Khajuraho temple in Madhya Pradesh is famous for such sculptures. The Kamasutra, as we know it today, is believed to have been written by ancient Indian philosopher Vatsayana. This book on the explicit sexual pleasure that still finds resonance in 2018, was integral to Hindu culture way back in the ancient times.

So what is the Odisha Police so perturbed about? Probably the words used by him made it frivolous, but those who are willing can clearly find the harmless sarcasm in it. To suggest that he deliberately disrespected a religion is rather bizarre.

However, the matter is not as simple. Many in the political circle see it as a move with orders from the powers in the state to get even with Vijayant Jay Panda, former BJD MP whose close proximity to the BJP has irked the Naveen Patnaik government. Abhijit’s political views are widely-known and in his recent trip, he has clicked photos while on board a chopper belonging to Panda. Not only a separate FIR is lodged against Panda for allegedly flying over bio-sensitive Chilka lake, but political thinkers believe that this arrest of Iyer-Mitra and the street protests in Odisha preceding the arrest is a deliberate political move to malign Panda’s image and portray him as ‘anti-Hindu’.

Be as it may, Twitterati has outpoured their angst against the brazen arrest with #IStandWithAbhijit trending on top. Journalists, thinkers have expressed their shock and dismay quite explicitly. But what’s troubling is the stunned silence from the champions of freedom of expression who were quite vocal when Maqbul Fida Hussain faced ire after painting a nude image of goddess Saraswati. The same intelligentsia that argued for the right to question the Parliament-attack mastermind Afzal Guru’s hanging or celebrate Ravana in JNU in the façade of freedom of expression, today, refused to stand with Abhijit. But if Twitter is a reflection of people’s sentiments, the nation stands with Abhijit.