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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 24, June 15, 2024

Odisha’s First-Ever BJP CM’s Track Record | S N Sahu

Saturday 15 June 2024, by S N Sahu

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June 13 2024

Mohan Majhi’s demand in 2022 for the release of the killers of Graham Staine and his children, if implemented, would have harmed the state’s communal harmony.

Odisha has got a new government with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and fourth-time MLA, Mohan Charan Majhi, taking oath as Chief Minister on June 12, 2024. This is the first-ever BJP government in the state that assumed office after Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik fell short of the majority mark by winning only 51 seats in contrast to BJP’s 78, which crossed the half-way mark in the Assembly comprising 147 seats.

Anti-Christian Riots

Earlier from 2000 to 2009, the BJP, during the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani, was part of a coalition government of which BJD was a key partner, with its president Naveen Patnaik occupying the post of Chief Minister. Patnaik snapped the alliance in 2009 after anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal region triggered by Hindutva forces. He then formed the government in 2009, 2014 and 2019, after BJD got a majority on its own and BJP got consigned to a distant second position; with only 23 Assembly seats in 2019.

A sense of apprehension has been rekindled that Odisha, which in 2008 saw anti-Christian riots associated with the Hindutva forces when the BJP-BJD coalition government was ruling in the state, might see communal discord and resultant violence.

Such apprehensions are accentuated because the new Chief Minister Majhi, with his RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) background and as a fourth-time MLA of Keonjhar, in 2022, had joined a protest led by the Sudarshan TV’s editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke in Keonjhar, demanding the release of Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh. Singh has been sentenced to life imprisonment for committing the horrendous crime of killing (burning alive) Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children in Odisha in 1999. Recall that Chavhanke has always used his TV channel to peddle hatred against the minorities, specifically Muslims and Christians. So, Majhi revealed his sinister motives in standing in solidarity with him in support of the dreaded criminal Dara Singh.

It is worth recalling that then President of India K R Narayanan had referred to the heinous crime of Singh as part of “the world’s inventory of black deeds,” while then Prime Minister Vajpayee had described as “’a blot on our collective consciousness.’’

That is why Odisha’s new Chief Minister, with his track record of demanding the release of a convicted criminal, has generated apprehensions that during his tenure, Hindutva forces might become more aggressive. Such apprehensions get stronger when people recall the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal when BJP was sharing power in Odisha as a coalition partner of BJD. Several people fear that with Majhi as Chief Minister and BJP commanding a majority in the Assembly, there would be no restraint to Hindutva forces in the event of any communal violence erupting in the State.

Recent Attack of Hindutva Forces on Muslims

It is rather sad that a few years ago (2017), Hindutva groups unleashed violence in the coastal Bhadrak region triggered by a Ram Navami procession taken out in an area where a good number of Muslims reside. The community suffered badly after houses and business establishments of several of them were destroyed. The situation was brought under control with great difficulty. Luckily, there was no loss of life.

Similarly, last year, the Hanuman Jayanti procession was deliberately taken through the area of western Odisha’s Sambalpur city where several Muslims reside and their houses and shops were vandalised. The violence caused economic damages not only to Muslims but also Hindus who lived together and in partnership pursued several economic actives for their sustenance. That tragic development was followed by circulation of Odia leaflets across the state calling for total boycott of Muslims from the social and economic arena in a bid to exclude and deprive them of all opportunities to live as citizens of India.

Such divisive narratives had raised serious concerns with leading Odia newspapers writing editorials and flagging Odisha’s ethos of celebrating secular values and bhaichara (brotherhood) of people, regardless of the faiths they pursued. The calculated Hindutva assault on amity and unity of the people in the name of faith was very unusual in Odisha, which hardly has any record of communal violence.

Historically, Odisha Has Celebrated Secular Values

With Christians constituting 2.77% of the population and Muslims with 2.1%, Odisha, in spite of its deeply religious attributes defined by Hinduism, has always embraced people of all faiths. All the legendary leaders of the state, such as Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das and Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das, who struggled to form a separate entity for Odisha during the freedom struggle, always kept religion away from that struggle. Madhusudan Das famously said in the second decade of the 20th Century that there would not be any discussion on religion in the forum of Utkal Sammilani or Utkal Forum, which, after its formation in 1903, started a movement for a separate province of Odisha on the basis of Odia language and it was eventually created on April 1, 1936,

It is apprehended that during the tenure of the new Manohar Majhi government, that historical ethos may be lost sight of.

Travesty of Constitutional Morality

It is a travesty of constitutional morality that Majhi, who stood for Dara Singh’s release in 2022, has taken oath in 2024, bearing true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India to occupy the office of the Chief Minister of Odisha.

Modi’s Anti-Muslim Tirades

Also, we need to be mindful of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while campaigning for the recently concluded general elections, shockingly delivered toxic speeches against Muslims, terming them as “infiltrators” and expressing utter contempt against them. He did so in contravention of the Constitution, law and civilised values which a person occupying such a high constitutional office is required to follow. Modi did not do so, and even the Election Commission, which is legally mandated to put a check on him, did not do anything and just took a frivolous stand that he being an occupant of that exalted office is conscious of his responsibilities.

People of Odisha Need to be Vigilant

Modi was an RSS pracharak (propagandist) and Majhi has been groomed by RSS which has always a record of doubtful credibility vis-a-vis its commitment to the Constitution.

With such a background, marked by Majhi’s support to Dara Singh, the people of Odisha need to be vigilant for safeguarding its pluralistic ethos and communal amity.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

[The above article from NewsClick is reproduced here for educational and non-commercial use]

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