A gruesome palace intrigue is playing out in Odisha, where four siblings linked to the erstwhile royalty of Paralakhemundi, headquarters of Gajapati district, committed suicide on Sunday after public uproar and intense media scrutiny over their role in managing the affairs of the former king.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday ordered a probe by the state crime branch into the mysterious suicides. On Tuesday, even as a special investigation team (SIT) of the crime branch arrived in Paralakhemundi to start the investigation, family members of the deceased lodged a police complaint against 11 people, including the local MLA and also an Odiya TV news channel, for driving the four brothers and sisters to suicide.
Ananga Manjari, the manager of the ailing royalty and former MP Gopinath Gajapati Narayan Deb, was found dead in her house on Sunday along with younger sister Bijayalaxmi Patra and a brother Sanjay Patra. Another brother, Tulu Patra, was found in a critical condition and admitted to hospital but died a day later.
Aged between 35 and 55 and all unmarried, Anangamanjari and her siblings were accused of confining and mistreating the ailing royal and mismanaging his estate.
The police claim that initial reports indicate Ananga Manjari, Bijaylaxmi and Tulu had ingested poison, while Sanjay, also the personal assistant to the royal, had hanged himself.
The suicides rocked the state five days after the 74-year-old Gopinath Gajapati was admitted to a private hospital in Chennai following allegations that the Patra clan had confined him in the palace and placed him in virtual isolation.
Police say three suicide notes and a diary were recovered from the house. In her note, the Ananga Manjari said she was always loyal to Gajapati and never harmed his interests, but was taking the extreme step after the humiliating smear campaign against her family.
“My sister and brothers have taken the extreme step after Paralakhemundi (Congress) MLA K Surya Rao and former district BJD president Basanta Das ran a smear campaign against them with the help of some unscrupulous elements. The news channel sensationalised it without verifying facts,” said Purnima Patra, a sister of the four deceased siblings.
Meanwhile, a member of the SIT probe team who did not want to be named, said: “The suicide notes and diary have been sent for forensic tests. We will be questioning all concerned, including the family members of the deceased as well as Gopinath Gajapati.”
The chain of events started last week when fingers were pointed at Ananga Manjari for allegedly keeping the ailing royal “under house arrest” in his palace for the last two years. It was alleged that she did not allow even Gajpati’s relatives to meet him. Besides, she and her siblings were also accused of usurping royal family’s properties.
The precarious health of Gopinath Gajapati, who represented the Berhampur Lok Sabha seat twice from 1989 to 1996, became a subject of public discourse. Soon, thousands of locals hit the streets in protest against the apparent mistreatment of the former king.
The opposition BJP and Congress, as well as the ruling BJD, demanded action against Ananga Manjari and her brother Sanjay, who allegedly controlled the royal properties worth over Rs 500 crore.
On August 16, Gopinath Gajapati was shifted to a private hospital in Chennai. The intense media speculation and allegations that followed culminated in the mass suicide by the four Patra siblings on August 21.
(With PTI inputs)