Bhubaneswar: Odisha police on Monday arrested Pradeep Maharathy, a senior leader of the ruling BJD led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in connection with an attack on the members of a flying squad and Static Surveillance Team (SST) of Election Commission of India (ECI) at Pipili in Puri district on Sunday night.
The development, occurring a day before the third phase of simultaneous polls in the eastern state, took political watchers by surprise. The attack on the ECI team, allegedly orchestrated by Maharathy and his supporters, drew widespread condemnation from various quarters.
Maharathy, a former minister with a controversial image, is contesting from the Pipili Assembly constituency in these elections. He has denied any links to the attack.
“The ECI’s teams have been conducting inspections across the state for over a month. They received a tip-off last night about suspicious activities going on at a farmhouse at Pipili in violation of the model code of conduct. The ECI team was attacked by the people present at the farmhouse in the course of interrogation. The magistrate, a police ASI and a few other officials were injured,” said Puri district collector Jyotiprakash Das.
Both Puri SP Umashankar Dash and Odisha DGP RP Sharma confirmed Maharathy’s arrest after a formal complaint was lodged by members of the injured ECI team in connection with the incident at the farmhouse.
Police sources said the ECI team learnt that there was a feast for a large number of people going on at the farmhouse and that there was arrangement for distribution of freebies such as cash and alcohol to influence voters in favour of Maharathy.
“He (Maharathy) reached the farmhouse soon after we arrived for inspection, and he was among the people who threw a tantrum and even attacked many of us,” said Rabi Narayan Patra, executive magistrate of the flying squad, to News18.
Patra himself, assistant police inspector (ASI) Binay Kumar Das and vehicle driver Deepak were among the people who received injuries in the attack. Patra is receiving treatment at Capital Hospital in Bhubaneswar.