ON TUESDAY, defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was informed that his November 5 bail application was rejected by a Camp Court of a Sessions Judge inside Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Jail on November 8.
Iyer-Mitra was arrested on October 23 after two FIRs – one each in Konark and Bhubaneshwar – were filed against him for an allegedly sarcastic video and comment on the Konark Sun Temple that he posted on Twitter on September 16.
The police invoked Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 295A and 298 (criminalising acts or words uttered intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of any individual or class), and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC against him.
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This was the second bail application of Iyer-Mitra that was rejected — the first one earlier this month by a Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate’s Camp Court in the same jail. He has been filing for bail in the Camp Courts of the jail because of a lawyer’s strike that has paralysed Odisha’s judicial machinery since August 28. In fact, in a tweet the same day that he posted the video, Iyer-Mitra clarified it was joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mindblowing. The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas,” he said.
Iyer-Mitra’s lawyer Nikhil Mehra told The Indian Express that on September 20 his client was called to the Nizamuddin Police station on the pretext of taking a statement for another case involving former Biju Janata Dal leader Baijayant Panda. “Once he reached the police station, the Odisha Police tried to arrest him, but was given protection by a district court in Delhi for a surety of Rs 1 lakh and asking him to join the investigation by September 28,” he said.
Mehra said Panda was also named in the FIR filed in Konark against Iyer-Mitra.
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To prevent his arrest, Iyer-Mitra’s lawyers moved the Supreme Court on September 27 and protection was extended till October 5 by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. Misra retired on October 3, and Iyer-Mitra’s lawyers approached the Supreme Court again on October 4 but the bench headed by the new Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, “If your life is in danger, then what better place to stay than the jail, you will be secure”. This was Gogoi’s first day as Chief Justice of India.
Mehra said they informed Odisha police on October 5 that Iyer-Mitra has to present himself before a house committee of the Odisha Assembly on October 11. But their flight was canceled due to Cyclone Titli and Iyer-Mitra presented himself before the committee and apologized — “I beg apology because of my stupidity” — on October 23.
He was arrested by the police soon after.
Iyer-Mitra works with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies as a senior research fellow. He was formerly with the Observer Research Foundation. Manoj Joshi, head of the National Security Programme at ORF, recalled that Iyer-Mitra undertook some “academic work” and wrote a paper with Joshi. Iyer-Mitra specialised in defence and aviation and his work was “absolutely first rate”, Joshi said.
According to Joshi, Iyer-Mitra loves to “joke and laugh around”. About him being in jail for over 20 days now for a supposedly sarcastic tweet, he said, it was a “mockery of the law.”
Mihir Sharma, Senior Fellow and Head, Economy and Growth Programme, at ORF, said Iyer-Mitra has “never hidden that he is provocative”. Sharma said, “He usually has a serious point to make in all of this provocation. Often is incorrect, sometimes correct.”
Joshi said Iyer-Mitra tilts “right of centre” politically. In a tweet on May 24, he called Rohingyas an “ethnographic menace”.
Iyer-Mitra has been known to use his Twitter account with nearly 20,000 followers to call a journalist “jihadi” and asking for incarceration of organisations and people of ideologies he disagrees with. In 2015, he tweeted about Human Rights Watch, “”Human rights” watch or “US interests” watch…Time for india to throw HRW clowns in jail”. In another tweet in March this year, regarding “left scum” he not only justified arrests, but even “gunning them down”. He tweeted: “It is PRECISELY the fact that lefty scum DO NOT OBEY the law that is the advantage. Because then you are justified in throwing them in jail or legally Machine Gunning them down”.
Iyer-Mitra is the son of former IAS officer V S Chandralekha, who was later the Tamil Nadu president of Subramanian Swamy’s Janata Party, which later merged with BJP before the 2014 general elections.