Naveen Backs Minister Under Fire; Raises Eyebrows

by Dikhyaa Mohanty

It’s now official. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has all but given the clean chit to minister of state for Home Dibya Shankar Mishra, the demand for whose ouster has seen the political temperature in the state reaching fever pitch for well over a fortnight now. Both the main Opposition parties – the BJP and the Congress – are demanding Mishra’s removal from the council of ministers for his alleged role in the murder of Mamita Meher, a lady teacher in a school in Kalahandi district.

In sharing the dais with Mishra at a government function in Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi, on Monday, the Chief Minister has signaled that he has no plans of dropping the former from his ministry, notwithstanding the incessant demands of the Opposition. Significantly, Mishra was kept out of the dais at a government function in Baripada last month though his name was very much there in the schedule distributed before the programme. What it means in effect, observers say, is that Patnaik, who was not sure about the right course of action in the matter earlier, has now made up his mind to lend the beleaguered minister his official backing.

Patnaik’s backing of Mishra has surprised most people in the state because he has, in the past, dropped ministers like hot potatoes whenever there have been allegations against them, even minor ones. The allegations against Mishra, if anything, are much more serious. He has been accused of patronizing and giving protection to Gobinda Sahu, the founder of the school where the lady teacher taught who has been arrested for the murder of the lady teacher. Both the Congress and the BJP have alleged that he arranged a meeting between Meher and Sahu, at his residence in Raipur days before the latter’s murder where he is said to have tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two. They have also alleged that the minister was a frequent visitor to the school campus, which also houses a plus two college, and stayed in the campus overnight on several occasions. The minister also arranged generous funds for the college under various government schemes in gross violation of rules and norms for such grants, they alleged, pointing out that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had castigated these grants to the college in its report for the year 2014. The grants did not stop even after the college was blacklisted for allowing malpractices in the plus two exams, they added.

There has been a virtual exodus from the college after allegations that Sahu used to trap some girls staying in the hostel of the college and run a sex racket using them. Scores of parents have taken away their daughters and got them admitted to other colleges after the allegation surfaced. Information out in the public domain since the murder of Mamita on October 8 suggest that differences between Sahu and Mamita began when the former, who claimed she had proof of the shady goings-on in the campus, threatened to expose him. Alarmed at the prospect of being exposed, Sahu reportedly hatched a plan to kill Mamita after his bid to patch up with her failed.

Minister Mishra, however, has not responded to any of the charges levelled against him. After keeping mum for nearly two weeks after his name was first dragged in the case, he released a two-page written statement, which was full of platitudes but did not answer any of the allegations made against him.

With the Chief Minister and BJD supremo ending his weight behind him, Mishra can now breathe easy.

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