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Sandeep Sahu

Now that the state cabinet has decided, as part of a comprehensive package for crop loss, to pay compensation even to those who have emulated Bargarh farmer Brunda Sahu and burnt their crops, Agriculture minister Dr. Damodar Rout has ended up with egg on his face. In effect, the cabinet has overruled his unilateral announcement on Saturday that such farmers would not get any compensation.

There are several questions that the cabinet decision throws up. Why did Dama Babu have to jump the gun and make such an announcement – rubbing salt to the farmer’s injury - at a time when the state government was in the process of finalizing the compensation package for the farmers who have lost their paddy crops? Did he bother to consult anyone – especially the Chief Minister – before making such a statement? Did he oppose the decision to compensate the farmers who burnt their crops in the cabinet meeting? If he did and was overruled, would it not have been the proper course for a person of his seniority and stature to resign instead of being part of the team that briefed the media on the compensation package after the cabinet meeting? And last but not the least, did the Chief Minister chide/censure him for speaking out of turn – even if only in private?

Dama Babu, of course, is known as a leader and minister who just cannot resist the temptation to speak out of turn – not just about the affairs of his department but even on subjects that are not even remotely under his domain. But a seasoned leader like him would have surely known that the grossly insensitive statement that he made two days ago would not just infuriate the farmers’ community already seething with anger against government apathy, but would also embarrass himself, his party, his leader and his government. And yet, he went ahead, drawing a scathing riposte from Brunda Sahu’s daughter.

Also Read: A Govt ‘Always’ With The Farmer… Except When He Needs It The Most

This, of course, was not the first time the Biju era politician has embarrassed the party and the government. Only recently, he raised the heckles of many people with his utterly tasteless “Swami Chhadi, Anganwadi” comment on BJP leader Lekhashree Samantsinghar while speaking at a BJD event in Jajpur district. Demonstrations, gheraoes and effigy burning over the statement are yet to end. A little earlier, he flummoxed everyone with his “Congress not untouchable” statement, forcing party supremo Naveen Patnaik to come out with a clarification that the BJD was still ‘equi-distant’ from both Congress and the BJP and would have no alliance with any party in 2019. A few months ago, he had insulted a lady Congress spokesperson (who, in a strange role reversal, has now become a spokesperson for the ruling party!) on a live TV discussion by insinuating that she had become the spokesperson by ‘pleasing’ some top leader of the party. This was straight out of the political gutter and hardly behoved a senior leader like him. But then restraint and discretion have never been among the BJD veteran’s virtues. And the good doctor is yet to find a cure for his foot-in-the-mouth disease.

Given the umpteenth number of times he has embarrassed his leader, party and government, it is an abiding mystery why Naveen, normally very harsh in such matters, has given him such a long rope. This kid glove treatment may have to do with the fact that Dama Babu was a favourite of his father.  May be he feels that the Paradip lawmaker’s blabbering provides some much needed comic relief and is not taken seriously by anyone. It is also possible that Naveen feels that a Dama out of the cabinet would be more difficult to control than a Dama in it. But if the pain and anguish in what Brunda Sahu’s daughter said on TV after Dama Babu’s highly uncalled for statement on Saturday is anything to go by, the BJD boss could be vastly underestimating the damage that the Agriculture minister’s unrestrained tongue is causing to his party and his government.

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