How The BJP Leadership Zeroed In On Mohan Charan Majhi For The Odisha CM’s Post

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 12, 2024, 01:07 PM | Updated 04:17 PM IST

Mohan Charan Majhi
Mohan Charan Majhi
  • Mohan Charan Majhi stood out for tribal lineage, anti-corruption stance, and grassroots popularity.
  • The choice of Mohan Charan Majhi for the Odisha Chief Minister’s post was not a very easy one for the BJP. 

    Though Majhi ticks all the boxes, including the crucial one of being an old-timer with strong links to the RSS, there were other strong contenders for the CM’s post.  

    What ultimately swung the decision in Majhi’s favour was not only his tribal lineage, but also his strong and well-known stance against corruption and against conversions of tribals by Chrisitian missionaries in the state. 

    When the two central observers appointed by the party to help the state unit choose the CM — Rajnath Singh and Bhupendra Yadav — landed at the Biju Patnaik International Airport late Tuesday morning, few knew that the party’s central leadership had Majhi’s name in mind. 

    Till Tuesday afternoon, the names of state party chief Manmohan Samal, Brajarajnagar MLA Suresh Pujari, six-time Patnagarh MLA Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo, four-time Kuchinda MLA Rabi Narayan Naik, and two-time Loisingha MLA Mukesh Mahaling were doing the rounds as possible picks for the CM’s post. 

    Most political punters were betting on Pujari and Singh Deo. Pujari, who won the Bargarh Lok Sabha seat in 2019, did not contest the parliamentary polls this time at the request of the party’s central leadership. He contested and won from Brajarajnagar Assembly seat by a handsome margin. 

    Since the BJP central leadership had asked Pujari to contest the assembly elections this time, speculation was rife that the leadership had Pujari in mind for the CM’s post. Also, Pujari is known to be close to Amit Shah; he was brought into the central committee of the party by Shah when the latter was the party chief. 

    Pujari had also gone to New Delhi soon after the declaration of results and had spent a few days meeting some senior central leaders of the party. 

    Singh Deo is a member of the erstwhile royal family of Patna state (not to be confused with Bihar’s Patna) with its capital at Balangir. Apart from being a six-time MLA from Patnagarh (he won the seat for five successive terms from 1995 to 2014, lost it in 2019 to the BJD but won again this time), he has proven administrative qualities. He served as minister for urban development, industry and public enterprise in the Naveen Patnaik government between 2000 and 2009 when the BJD was part of the NDA. 

    Singh Deo also served as president of the state party unit. He is known to have been an efficient minister who did a lot of work during his tenure. After Naveen Patnaik severed ties with the NDA, he (Patnaik) made many attempts to woo Singh Deo to join the BJD. Patnaik is said to have wanted to retain him as the industries and urban development minister. 

    But Singh Deo turned down those offers and remained loyal to the BJP. His family has been in active politics for many decades. His grandfather, Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo (who signed the instrument of accession to the Indian Union in late 1947) joined the Swatantra Party and was chief minister of Odisha from 1967 to 1971. 

    His father, Raj Raj Singh Deo, was also a member of the Swatantra Party and was a member in the 4th (1967-1970) and 5th (1971-1977) Lok Sabha. 

    Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo’s wife — Sangeeta — is a five-time Lok Sabha MP from Balangir; she won the seat in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2019 and 2024. 

    Thus, Singh Deo’s claim for the CM’s post was considered to be a very strong one and till Tuesday (11 June) morning, many BJP legislators were quite certain that he would be made the CM. He has been made one of the two deputy chief ministers. 

    State BJP chief Manmohan Samal was also a lead contender in the race for the CM’s post. He was strongly backed by some central leaders, including Dharmendra Pradhan. Pradhan, it is well-known, had his sights on the CM’s post and would have wanted to resign from the Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat that he won this time to become the Odisha CM. 

    But Pradhan, who has been re-inducted into the Union cabinet and given the important education portfolio again, was prevailed upon by the party’s top leadership to continue as an MP because of the delicate numerical strength of the BJP and its allies in the Lok Sabha. 

    The party leadership did not want Pradhan to resign from Sambalpur since that would have brought down the BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabha and necessitated a by-election (in Sambalpur). 

    After being ruled out of the race (for the CM’s post), Pradhan backed Samal. He told senior leaders of the party that Samal had, as the state BJP chief, successfully steered the party to an impressive victory in the state. 

    But Samal has lost the Chandabali Assembly seat that he contested this time to the BJD, though by a narrow margin of 1916 votes. That went against him. Also, despite being the state party chief, Samal lacked the requisite political heft. And making him the CM would have displeased other powerful factions in the state unit. 

    Two-time MLA from Loisingha, Mukesh Mahaling, was a wild card entry of sorts. An environmental scientist by profession, he had served on the state pollution control board. What made some political observers assume that he would be put in the hot seat was the fact that he is a Dalit. 

    Mahaling’s name came up because of the competing claims of powerful MLAs in the state. Mahaling, thought political pundits, would be acceptable to all factions since he wasn’t aligned to any group and was also a lightweight. 

    A section of party leaders in Odisha also floated Rabi Narayan Naik’s name since he is a four-time MLA from Kuchinda, an assembly segment in Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat. Naik, say some party sources, was being propped up by Dharmendra Pradhan as his second choice (after Manmohan Samal) for the CM’s post. 

    What worked for Majhi

    One, He is a tribal.

    Majhi, who hails from Kendujhar district, fits in neatly with the BJP’s project of promoting self-made leaders from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

    Odisha’s tribals (who form 23 per cent of the state’s population) have a close affinity with their brethren in neighbouring Jharkhand where the BJP didn’t do well since it could not win the support of tribals there. 

    Majhi’s ascension to the CM’s post is meant to send a strong signal to tribals of not only Jharkhand, but other states as well. Majhi being made the CM will strengthen BJP’s ongoing outreach to tribals. 

    Two, Strong links with Sangh Parivar.

    Majhi, 52, was associated with the sangh parivar from a young age. He was a member of the RSS and attended shakhas regularly. 

    He taught for a couple of years at the RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir at Kendujhar before plunging into active politics. 

    Majhi contested and won the panchayat polls and was sarpanch of Kendujhar Panchayat Samiti from 1997 to 2000. 

    He contested the assembly polls from Kendujhar for the first time in 2000 and won. He retained the seat in 2004, but lost in 2009 and 2014 to the BJD. 

    He returned to the Odisha Assembly in 2019 and retained the seat this time also. 

    Majhi continued to work dedicatedly for the Sangh Parivar and was made the secretary of the BJP’s Adivasi Morcha. 

    Three, he has been a crusader against conversions.

    During the 1980s and 1990s, and even till the first decade of this century, conversions of gullible tribals by Christian missionaries was rampant in many districts of the state. 

    Missionaries, including those from other countries, were luring tribals through allurements and sorcery to Christianity. The proselytisation was being carried out openly and blatantly, and successive Congress governments in the state were patronising the missionaries. 

    Majhi was one of the key tribal leaders who opposed these conversions and stood up to the soul-harvesting missionaries. 

    He played a key role in protecting innocent tribal leaders from harsh action by the state government and Congress strongmen in the wake of the murder of notorious Christian missionary Graham Staines in January 1999. 

    The murder made international headlines and the state machinery under Congress Chief Minister Janaki Ballabh Patnaik let loose a reign of terror. Aided by Congress musclemen, police went on a rampage and looted Hindu tribal villages. Hundreds of innocent Hindu tribals were arrested without charges and incarcerated. 

    Majhi stood by them and organised legal aid for the victims of state repression. 

    Majhi then started organising resistance against the Christiian missionaries and has been successful in stemming proselytisation. 

    Four, he has been a leading figure in the fight against corruption.

    Majhi is considered to be squeaky clean and incorruptible. He has been a crusader against the mining mafia and illegal mining in the state. 

    In 2021, he escaped an attempt on his life when some bike-borne hitmen hurled bombs at his vehicle at Kendujhar. He raised the issue of the mining mafia many times in the state Assembly. 

    Majhi is a powerful orator who has raised his voice against corruption and scams. His act of hurling pulses at Assembly Speaker Pramila Mallik last year while protesting a scam in the procurement of pulses for the mid-day meal scheme led to his suspension from the Assembly. But it won him many admirers.

    Majhi has been at the forefront of the BJP’s campaign against widespread corruption by the BJD. 

    Majhi has few personal possessions and one of the most popular stories about him is his coming to Bhubaneshwar after his Assembly win in 2019. He complained to the assembly speaker that a delay in allotment of a government quarter to him forced him to spend a few nights on the city’s pavements. He said he was robbed off his cell phone while he was asleep on a pavement near the then CM Naveen Patnaik’s residence one night. 

    His accounts were found to be true. 

    Five, he is a popular leader, loved by the masses.

    Majhi has a strong connection with the masses. He is down-to-earth, humble, soft-spoken yet firm and treats everyone with respect. 

    Even as the crucial meeting to pick an MLA for the CM’s post was going on at the state BJP headquarters, Majhi went to the morgue of a government hospital in Bhubaneshwar to console the family of an aide who had died in a road accident Monday evening. 

    He received a call asking him to reach the party HQs because he had already been chosen as the CM by them. He returned only after the postmortem was over.  

    Majhi makes it a point to attend even small sports meets in his constituency and keeps an open house, receiving visitors and treating them as his own at all times of the day and evening. On any given day, he can be seen sharing his simple meals with at least two dozen visitors at his spartan house in Kendujhar. 

    Self-effacing man that he is, Majhi never made any move to stake his claim for the CM’s post. That also worked in his favour.

    These qualities made it easy for the BJP bigwigs to decide on his name for the CM’s post. Majhi is also not aligned with any group in the party and actively discourages factionalism. He is said to be a highly disciplined party worker who follows instructions from seniors to the T.

    Majhi’s candidature, it is learnt, was pushed by Ashwin Vaishnaw who joined Rajnath Singh and Bhupendra Yadav at the crucial meeting at the state party HQs in Bhubaneshwar. Jual Oram, who had also been deputed by the party central leadership to oversee the meeting of the newly-elected BJP legislators Tuesday afternoon, also backed Majhi’s candidature very strongly. 

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