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    OpinionsOdisha’s Tribal CM Mohan Manjhi made it to the top with friends...

    Odisha’s Tribal CM Mohan Manjhi made it to the top with friends in high places


    Curtains down on Naveen Patnaik, one of 's longest serving Chief Minister

    By Harihar Swarup

    Caste does not matter much in Odisha . But it seems the BJP is up to experimenting with it, as it chose a tribal face as its first Chief Minister in the state over more familiar — Mohan Charan Manjhi, a four–time legislator from Keonjhar district, who belongs to the Santhal tribe, like the President of India, Droupadi Murmu. Tribals constitute almost a quarter of Odisha's population. The 52-year-old Manjhi is the third tribal Chief Minister of Odisha — Congressmen Hemananda Biswal and Giridhar Gamang had short tenures in the 1990s.

    A law graduate, Manjhi started his career as a schoolteacher in Saraswati hishu Mandir in Jhumpura and had an inclination to the RSS ideology since his student days. He started his political career as a sarpanch and was first elected to the assembly from Keonjhar in 2000. He is close to Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who is said to have played an important role in his elevation to the top post.

    In an attempt to get the caste and regional equations right, senior leaders Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo and first legislator Pravati Parida have been made deputy chief ministers. Singh Deo, a six time legislator, is the scion of the Bolangir royal family. His grandfather R N Singhdeo was Odisha's first non-Congress Chief Minister and his wife Sangeeta Kumari has been reelected from the Bolangir constituency.

    While Manjhi is from the north, Singh Deo is from the western part of the state while Parida,who ruled Odisha for 24 long years, suffered his first defeat in his political career in Kantabanji constituency of Bolangir, Singh Deo's home turf.

    The BJD's defeat marks a turning point in Odisha's political history. Naveen Patnaik, who started as a reluctant politician, turned Orisha into one of the governed states in the country. Though he spoke rarely their language, generations of Odia showered him affection and votes. He was just two months away from becoming the longest serving chief minister in the country.

    The results meant that Odias this time favoured the double-engine promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the ‘double sankha' (double symbol conch) slogan of the BJD .During the campaign Modi had launched a frontal attack on his old friend Patnaik, questioning his ability to rule the state owing to his deteriorating and influence of bureaucrats. The BJP singled out V K Pandian, a 2000-batch IAS officer from Tamil Nadu who left the service and joined the BJD. As Patnaik was confined to Bhubaneswar, Pandian travelled across the state to hard-sell the government's welfare schemes and was believed to be Patnaik's successor. The BJP turned the heat on Pandian, calling him an outsider. (IPA Service)




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