New Delhi: Manjunath Bhajantri, Deputy Commissioner of Deoghar, Jharkhand, who is an alumnus of IIT-Bombay and known for his ‘closeness’ with Chief Minister Hemant Soren, is someone who always stays in the news. A ‘zero FIR’ was lodged against him by the Delhi Police Saturday after the Deoghar MP Nishikant Dubey accused him of sedition and interfering with national security. This is not the first time when Bhajantri and Dubey are at loggerheads. It has been a continuous year-long tussle between the two.
Nishikant Dubey was booked Friday for forcefully taking clearance for a chartered flight from the ATC (Air Traffic Control) at Deoghar Airport.
Bhajantri, a 2011-batch IAS officer from Karnataka, has been the primary target of the Jharkhand BJP unit leaders including Babulal Marandi and Nishikant Dubey, said one of his colleagues in the state administration. Bhajantri is known among his peers as a ‘straight’ officer. “He [Bhajantri] is close to the Chief Minister for his efficiency. He is a gutsy officer and is not scared of any politician. He always goes by the rulebook,” said his colleague, who is also an IAS officer in Jharkhand.
The IAS officers in the state call him a ‘victim of politics’ as he did not bow down to pressure. “The government will stand by him with all its might if there is a need,” added the officer.
A top IAS officer of the Jharkhand government told ThePrint, “Delhi police lodged a ‘zero FIR’. There are claims and counter-claims. But, technically, the DC is the chairperson of aerodrome security. He entered the area with valid security passes issued by the director. And, if he had to be stopped, it should have been done by the airport director.”
“There are charges of sedition against him. In that case, there should be criminal intent. But, where is the intent here? If an investigation has to be ordered into this matter, it has to come from the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation). The state government has not initiated any inquiry into this as of now and did not call the officer for an explanation,” the senior officer added.
Bhajantri has even served under the Modi government and held crucial positions. According to his executive record sheet, he served as the PS to the Minister of State, Railways, and to the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, between 2019 and 2020.
He returned to the Jharkhand cadre in 2021. The election commission recommended the State to remove Bhajantri as the Deputy Commissioner in December last year after Dubey accused him of being politically partisan. Bhajantri had lodged five FIRs of MCC (Model Code of Conduct) violation against Dubey, but the complaints were made months after the election.
“The government wrote back to the ECI, requesting the commission to reconsider its decision, which was eventually rejected this year. The government is yet to take a call on the matter,” said the senior officer.
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The airport hoarding controversy
Incidents and issues related to Bhajantri that have made headlines are of social, political, and administrative matters. These include allegations for not taking the calls of the Raj Bhavan, lodging at least half a dozen FIRs against Deoghar MP Nishikant Dubey, and also eating with Dalits and tribal villagers in the district.
Nishikant Dubey, the BJP MP, has made at least three attempts to remove Bhajantri from his position in the last 12 months. He had demanded Bhajantri’s suspension for putting up a hoarding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren together during the inauguration of Deoghar Airport in July.
“The tussle between the MP and the DC is an ongoing thing here. Bhajantri has many times complained against the MP for malpractices. He has put his views on the public domain too after Dubey accused him of breaching national security,” said a third IAS officer from the state who has worked closely with Bhajantri.
The Print reached out to Bhajantri through calls and texts, but to no response. The story will be updated once the response is received.