Dear Mr Naveen Patnaik, 

In Indian politics, you were special. You were the ultimate sophisticate, the winsome beta male among the boors of Bharatiya rajniti. You were the art lover and patron, the consummate reader and writer, the discerning party host, and the curator of finesse.

You mingled with Mick Jagger and Jacqueline Kennedy, your ’60s boutique Psychedelhi at the Oberoi hotel had the Beatles as clients. Your sister Gita Mehta is one of the nation’s finest writers, and you yourself have authored at least three well-known books. You also acted in a Merchant-Ivory movie called Deceivers, with Pierce Brosnan and Saeed Jaffrey as co-actors.

You set up the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a deep and wonderful legacy.

It is that very legacy of being India’s most cultured, open and sensitive politician which you have disgraced by dragging it to gutter politics, Mr Patnaik. You scored political points. But Odisha’s swabhimaan would have been served much better if you chastised Abhijit Iyer-Mitra publicly or privately, like an elder, instead of sending him to the dungeons over a silly practical joke.

You, through your party members and spokespersons, have stood by one of India’s most vulnerable minorities, the LGBTQ communities, by supporting decriminalising of Section 377 of IPC when most other netas were hemming and hawing or being downright hostile. And still, you had no qualms kicking around Abhijit, who is openly gay and vulnerable, with the coarsest air of a police state, knowing he is a soft target with very little political agency to protect himself.

Being an insightful, right-leaning strategic analyst and writer on policy does not win you friends or influence, especially in the ruling BJP. The party was the first to wash its hands of Abhijit and did not make the weakest effort to defend his freedom of expression. It is in the throes of power and expansion, and it would not be seen supporting the weak against regional chauvinism.

But one expected better from you. In 2010, you had faced frivolous accusations of disrespecting the tricolour at a function to celebrate your party BJD’s 14th anniversary. With your excellent reserves of fine taste, one hoped there existed some empathy for someone in a similar but far worse situation.

Our political and legal system, and obviously the Church, has shown a lot more empathy and milk of human kindness for Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun. Mulakkal got bail within a couple of weeks and was received like a hero. Abhijit was treated like a rapist for more than 40 days for just being ironical and funny, and maybe facile.

In trying to play to the cultural pride of Odias, you have disgraced not just yourself but the Konark temple’s spirit of openness, playfulness and tolerance. The men and women making love on the walls, the immortal architect who created them, and the stones of Odisha that have stood eloquently for centuries will not be proud of you today.

And in the end came the grandiose, pukeworthy announcement: ‘Odisha government pardons journalist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra.’

Some day, stand in front of a mirror, and ask yourself to pardon you, Mr Patnaik. You have let yourself down.


Abhijit Majumder