Bhubaneswar: The public ire against self-styled godman Strimad Sarathi Dev has rocked Odisha's Kendrapara town on Friday as protesters, demanding his immediate arrest, fought a pitched battle with police leading to injury on both sides.
The agitators seeking the godman's arrest for his alleged escapades blocked Tinimuhani Chhak, the entry point to the district headquarter town, by burning tyres, a BJP leader claimed.
When police intervened, the protesters clashed with them and threw stones. The pitched battle followed as police resorted to lathicharge, teargas shells and even pelted stones on the agitators, senior BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra said.
Television news channels showed police even attacking passers-by, who raised hands above their shoulders as a sign of surrender. They were also shown kicking on shop doors.
Some mediapersons were injured in the clash besides the policemen and protestors, Mohapatra said.
Section 144 was imposed on the entire stretch from Tinimuhani Square in Kendarpara town to Sarathi Ashram in Barimula from 10 am to 10 pm, but it failed to prevent people from continuing their protests as they suspected the police of protecting the accused self-styled godman instead of arresting him, he claimed.
The district administration deployed 20 platoons of security personnel.
Meanwhile, an official in CM's office also said that "Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered the transfer of Satish Gajbhiye from Kendrapara and appointed Nitinjit Singh in his place as the district SP."
Patnaik also directed RP Koche, Inspector General (IG) of police, central range, to rush to Kendrapara and take stock of the situation, the official said.
The Chief Minister has already ordered a crime branch probe into the charges against Strimad Sarathi Dev and a three-member team has reached at the godman's ashram and has begun investigations. Mohapatra claimed that the party's Kendrapara district president Duryodhan Sahu was beaten up and forced to 'kneeldown' on road by police.
Accusing the police of indulging in excesses in a bid to silence the protesters, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Prasad Harichandan said, "Police action was adding fuel to the fire instead of extinguishing the flame."
The entire state has been witnessing agitation for the past three days demanding arrest of Sarathi after a private TV channel showed a picture of the self-styled godman and accused him of spending two days with a woman at a Hyderabad hotel.
It was also alleged that the woman accompanying him to Hyderabad was shown as his wife in the hotel record.
Sarathi has, however, denied the charge and threatened to take legal action against the concerned TV channel.
Orissa High Court Bar Association has demanded a judicial probe into the Kendrapara violence and decided to observe a "symbolic protest" on Monday.
Lawyers elsewhere in the state also decided to abstain from their respective courts on the day.
"A fact-finding team of the Bar would visit Kendrapara on Monday and based on the team's report, the Bar would decide its course of action at a general body meeting scheduled on Monday afternoon," said Bar association secretary Bijay Kumar Ragad.
Condemning the use of "brute police force" on people and particularly on a lawyer at Kendrapara, Ragad said that the district SP Gajbhiye, who was shifted, should be placed under suspension.
The police officer has been asked to report at the police headquarters and would be the officer without duty, officials said.