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Mrunal Manmay Dash

There was a time when Ministers were removed from Naveen Patnaik’s Cabinet at the drop of a hat. But the fifth term of Patnaik which made him the longest serving Chief Minister of the State tells an entirely different story with regards to his position on corruption and crime.

The case of Mahaling school teacher in Kalahandi, Mamita Meher who was brutally murdered by the president of that school’s managing committee, Gobinda Sahu, entangled the Minister of State (MoS), Home, Captain Dibya Shankar Mishra after the parents of the deceased alleged the Minister's involvement in the case.

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have been demanding the ouster of Mishra since the past one month. From protests in front of the district SP offices to display of black flag and hurling of eggs on the vehicles of multiple Odisha Ministers, the BJP and Congress have left no stone unturned to force Naveen Patnaik to sack his Minister.

However, if the recently concluded public event at Bhawanipatna where Patnaik shared the same stage with Minister Mishra is any indication, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and its Supremo seem to be least bothered about the allegations.

As per the sitting arrangements on the dais, MoS (Home) was seated to the right of CM Naveen Patnaik. On the face of it, the BJD core strategists tried to send the message that the Junagarh legislator is the right-hand man of CM.

The man whose intolerance towards corruption and crime were once the planks on which his political image rested and made him popular among the masses, seems to have drifted away. And the accusations made by the Opposition are not entirely baseless. In the recent past several Ministers including Bikram Keshari Arukh whose name had come up in the ACF Soumya Ranjan Mohapatra death case and Arun Sahu who was accused by the parents of murdered Nayagarh minor Pari for shielding his handy man, were spared by Patnaik without even a chiding.

Perplexed by this change in position by Patnaik, senior Congress leader and Jatni MLA, Suresh Routray said, “I think Naveen Patnaik has been kept in the dark about the latest developments. He was a good CM till his last term, but now he has changed. His party will sink in the next election.”

Similarly, BJP leader Pradeep Purohit wrapped the BJD by likening Patnaik's conduct to the saying, ‘Vinash Kale Viparita Budhhi’. “Patnaik’s image of a transparent CM has been exposed now,” said Purohit.

However, the BJD refuted the allegations. BJD MLA, Ashwini Patra said, “The CM has not changed at all. He taks action after scrutinising everything."

Meanwhile the Congress has intensified its agitation against Minister Mishra by calling a 12-hour Odisha bandh on November 12. Similarly the BJP has hit out at Naveen Patnaik by drawing comparison with former CM Janaki Ballav Patnaik who received flak after allegedly shielding the Anjana Mishra rape accused Indrajeet Ray during his tenure.

With the ensuing Panchayat elections on the cards, it remains to be seen whether this alleged change in Patnaik's stance has made even the slightest dent to the party, which observed by the recent conduct of its leadership and strategists, seems unlikely.

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