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Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: If one takes into account the episodes of crimes and scams unfolding in Odisha in the recent times, s/he would ponder on who should Odisha Chief Minister consider his foes – the Opposition BJP and Congress or his own Cabinet colleagues? Arun Sahoo, Pratap Jena, Ranendra Pratap Swain, Jagannath Saraka – all these four State Cabinet ministers who were looked upon as the deserving candidates in the fifth term of Naveen Patnaik government, have found themselves in troubled waters, not for completely invalid reasons.

The controversies surrounding them has given the Opposition abundant chances to train guns at the Naveen-led government. It also gave them ground to unsettle the hype over clean image of CM Naveen.

In the sensational abduction and murder of a 5-year-old girl in Nayagarh, the probe of which is currently underway, Agriculture Minister Arun Sahoo has been blamed by the BJP for allegedly shielding prime accused. Not only did the State witness massive protests, but demand for a CBI probe has also been made to trace real culprits.

Last week, the Mahanga double murder case which witnessed brutal hacking of senior BJP leader Kulamani Baral and his associate Dibyasingha, yet again gave an opportunity to the saffron party to corner the ruling-BJD as Law Minister Pratap Jena’s name found a mention in the FIR.

A few months back, Odisha Cooperation Minister Ranendra Pratap Swain and his brother Birendra were accused by farmers of loan fraud because of their alleged involvement in a cooperative scam worth crores done through the Cuttack Central Cooperative Bank’s (CCCB) Athagarh branch, when Birendra was working as president of the bank.

Coming down heavily on the State government, the saffron party sought expulsion of all three ministers from the Naveen Cabinet.

Recently after the seizure of precious gemstones worth around Rs 1.5 crore in Rayagada, the Congress alleged involvement of the ruling BJD in the illegal trade, citing that the accused Jitendra Kumar Behera, who was arrested by the Special Task Force of the Crime Branch, has links with State SC/ST Development Minister Jagannath Saraka. The Rayagada unit of Congress levelled allegations that the entire illegal trade and transportation of unfinished gemstones in the district was being carried out at the behest of Saraka.

Even as the Cabinet ministers have refuted all allegations, the power corridor is revolving around apprehensions now on whether they will be shown door from the Council of Ministers during a possible Cabinet rejig likely to take place very soon.

Asked about the Cabinet reshuffle, Minister Ashok Panda said, “The decision on dropping and retaining ministers will be taken by Chief Minister. I would not comment on this.”

“It is media who brings such reports to the fore. I have no information on Cabinet rejig. It is prerogative of the CM, whatever he finds is right will be accepted,” said senior BJD leader Amar Satpathy.

As many as ten new faces found place in the Cabinet after CM Naveen's fifth term began and some senior heavyweights weren't considered eligible, for reasons unknown. The moot question now is why has Naveen who doesn't tolerate taint of any sort and who used to show exit door to leaders over inefficiency, not taken any action against these four ministers!

Senior political expert Sandeep Sahu has said that the Zero Tolerance policy has come under scanner. “Zero Tolerance seems like a yesteryear's policy. Initiating action against a leader now is based on his/her damage potential and depends on what damage s/he could cause to the party and the government. Action is taken after taking this very factor into consideration,” he rued.

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