Naveen neck deep in scams: Fight for Kandhamal crucial
by Ashok B Sharma on 09 Oct 2014 1 Comment

Engulfed in scandals in his government, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is finding it difficult to manage the growing dissatisfaction within his own party. There is no other option left for him but to expel anyone who raises a voice against him. The party vice president and former finance minister Prafulla Ghadai was expelled from the Biju Janata Dal for stating that the chief minister has become “physically and mentally dull” and is controlled by a coterie comprising a bureaucrat who serves as his personal secretary, two MPs and a mining contractor.


To stem the undercurrent of dissidence in his party, Naveen went to the extent of accommodating turncoats like former Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh and offering him a Rajya Sabha seat. This made his one-time advisor turned adversary Pyarimohan Mohapatra to forecast that in a matter of time, the overcrowded party would sink under its own weight.


It was Pyari who was instrumental in marginalising many founding members of the party including the former Union minister Dilip Ray who were forced to leave the party. At the instance of Pyari, the BJD chief severed the 10-year old alliance with the BJP in run up to the 2009 polls.


Banking upon the legacy of his father Biju Patnaik and in absence of an effective Opposition, Naveen is slated to complete his innings as chief minister for the fourth term, after winning 117 out 147 seats in the state assembly and 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats.


But the question arises - is Naveen Patnaik’s popularity on the decline? The results of the by-elections scheduled for Kandhamal assembly segment on October 15 will tell. The BJP has fielded former BJD MP Rudra Madhav Ray as its candidate, while BJD has put up Pratyusha Rajeswari, widow of late MP Hemendra Chandra Singh.


The 77-year old Ray was named as BJP candidate a day after he joined the party. Ray, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kandhamal on the BJD ticket and secured over three lakh votes, was denied a ticket in the April 2014 polls. He was subsequently suspended from the BJD for allegedly working against the party during the last polls. Ray was a member of the state legislative assembly for three terms from 1990 to 2009 prior to being elected as an MP.


The BJP was hopeful of winning Kandhamal seat in 2009 following anti-Christian riots after the murder of the VHP saint Swami Laxmanananda, but could not achieve its goal. However, this time BJP is trying its luck by putting up Ray and banking on Modi euphoria.


After several scams including Minegate and Coalgate, recently the chit fund scams and land scams have come to haunt Naveen Patnaik, though he knows the art of keeping taints at bay and projecting himself as a saint. This is his art of survival. He shunts out ministers on the report of a scam and brings them back again if they are loyal to him. He denies tickets to those in whom he sniffs a shift in loyalty.


Recently the state’s former Advocate General Ashok Mohanty was arrested in connection with the Rs 20,000 crore chit fund scam that duped over one million people. He had to resign after the CBI summoned him, but the chief minister accepted his resignation about four months after he stepped down. Names of several BJD leaders including those linked to the chief minister have come under the scanner.


Some photographs reveal that a prime accused in the scam, Ranjan Das, arrested by the CBI, helped senior BJD leaders - Kalpatru Das and Pravat Tripathy - file the nomination papers of Naveen Patnaik for the party president election in January 2013. Ranjan allegedly also went to Naveen Patnaik's house to get his signature on the nomination papers. However, the BJD sources have denied this link.


In 2010, the Odisha crime branch prepared a list of a dozen chit fund companies and recommended action against them, including those of Seashore and Artha Tatwa. But instead of taking action against such companies, the state government signed MoUs with them for several projects.


Naveen Patnaik also attended the inaugural function of a news channel owned by jailed key chit fund accused Prasant Das, owner of Seashore group.


The CBI has so far interrogated and raided the houses of two BJD MLAs and one BJD MP. The leader of BJD in Rajya Sabha Kalpataru Das had to resign from his post after his son and BJD MLA Pranab Balbantaray was interrogated by the CBI.


The CBI arrested two stock brokers, Deepak Pareekh and Dharmendra Bothra, for alleged involvement in misappropriation of funds of scam-tainted Artha Tatwa group. Bothra was earlier questioned by the CBI on his land deal with a BJD MLA and a BJD strongman's son. The politician had bought a plot in Jaydev Vihar area in the state capital in 2003, but had later sold it off to Bothra. CBI grilled Pranab Balabantray, BJD lawmaker from Dharmasala Assembly segment, newspaper owner and builder Madhu Mohanty for their alleged links with ponzi scheme company Artha Tatwa group.


Naveen Patnaik had handed over the chit fund scam case to the Odisha crime branch more than two years ago. During this time, the crime branch did not question even one politician. With the CBI taking over the case at the direction of the Supreme Court, several politicians have been interrogated within just two months and the political nexus in the chit fund scam revealed. This is giving Naveen Patnaik sleepless nights. 

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