Odisha MoS home still in Oppn cross-hairs, but CM has his back

Odisha minister of state (MoS) for home Dibya Shankar Mishra has continued to face the the ire of the Opposition BJP and Congress over the Mamita Meher murder case, although he has never been charged by the police in the matter.

During the just-concluded Assembly session, the Congress legislators staged a walkout from the House in protest when Speaker SN Patro allowed Mishra to make a statement on the prevailing law and order situation in the state. Questioning the minister’s address, Narasingha Mishra, the Congress leader in the House, said, “The police probed into the woman teacher (Mamita Meher)’s murder case but did not investigate allegations of the minister’s involvement in the matter. Therefore, the investigation is not complete.”

Meher was a young teacher in a school in Mahaling village in Kalahandi district, who was killed allegedly by the school’s owner Gobinda Sahu in Otcober last year. Meher worked as a warden in the school’s hostel.

Dibya Shankar Mishra came under the cloud as the Opposition alleged his involvement in the Meher murder case, charging that Sahu was his close associate. Citing the pictures of them sharing a dais together, they also alleged that Mishra, a legislator from Junagarh constituency where the school is located, was shielding the prime accused. Though Sahu was arrested, the Opposition kept pressing for Mishra’s sacking from the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD ministry.

The police said they did not find any evidence against Mishra to charge him in the crime. On his part, the minister also refuted all the allegations levelled against him as “fake and politically-motivated”.

The Assembly’s previous session in December last year was washed out over the Meher murder case, as the House proceedings remained disrupted by sloganeering, blocking of gates, beating of gongs and bells, and sprinkling of gangajal and cow dung for “purification” by the BJP and Congress members. Their uproar forced the winter session to be adjourned sine die on December 11 – 20 days ahead of the schedule.

Th 53-year-old minister has however continued to receive unwavering support from Patnaik and the BJD. Since the murder case set off a political storm five months ago, the CM has stood by him. Initially, Patnaik shared the stage with him at an event in Kalahandi, and later, during the winter session of the Assembly, he broke his silence over the row by issuing a video statement, demanding proof against the minister regarding the Opposition’s allegations.

The support the BJD leadership has extended to Mishra is an acknowledgment of the significant role he plays for the party dispensation in the state.

A two-time MLA from Junagarh, Mishra is credited with wresting this constituency from the Opposition. When he won the seat in 2014 elections as a BJD candidate, it was the first time that the party was able to clinch the seat since 1951.

After winning his seat for the second time in 2019, Mishra gained prominence by visiting extremely remote villages that had never witnessed the arrival of politicians. He was also inducted by Patnaik into his ministry.

According to the affidavit he filed with the Election Commission for the 2019 election, no criminal complaints had been registered against him till then.

Born in Kalahandi, Mishra served in the Indian Air Force as a personnel of the Short Service Commission for 10 years. In 2003, he joined the Chattisgarh government’s aviation department as the chief pilot under the Raman Singh-led BJP government. In the 2009 Odisha polls, he had reportedly tried to contest from Kalahandi as a BJP candidate but failed to get the party ticket despite Singh’s backing.

BJD sources say Mishra is among the party leaders who are part of the CM’s inner circle. “Mishra is young and relatively new to politics, but he shows a lot of promise. He broke into an Opposition bastion (Junagarh) which was not ours, that itself speaks volumes about him. He can be trusted by the party and is an extremely disciplined legislator,” sources said. “The party is very strict with its principles and takes strong action against those who do not follow these principles. But in this matter (Meher murder case) it was mere talk without any evidence to support it.”

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