BJP’s big political gamble in Odisha - Hindustan Times
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BJP’s big political gamble in Odisha

ByHT Editorial
Jun 12, 2024 09:19 PM IST

BJP's choice of Mohan Charan Majhi as Odisha CM is significant as he is the third tribal to lead the state. This reflects BJP's efforts to expand its base

The BJP’s choice of Mohan Charan Majhi as Odisha chief minister (CM) is remarkable for multiple reasons. The BJP’s first CM in Odisha is only the third tribal to head the government in the state, which has the third largest tribal population in the country. The appointment is also in continuation with the BJP’s relentless effort to expand its social base across India, especially among sections of the population, among them Scheduled Tribes (ST), that have largely remained cool to the party’s outreach.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA PMO** Bhubaneswar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Odisha Chief Minister-designate Mohan Charan Majhi during the latter's swearing-in ceremony, in Bhubaneswar, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI06_12_2024_000279B) (PTI) PREMIUM
**EDS: IMAGE VIA PMO** Bhubaneswar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Odisha Chief Minister-designate Mohan Charan Majhi during the latter's swearing-in ceremony, in Bhubaneswar, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI06_12_2024_000279B) (PTI)

The rise of Majhi, a seasoned Santhal politician from Keonjhar district, marks a rupture in Odisha politics, which has been dominated by the Hindu upper castes. Barring Hemananda Biswal, who served as CM for a few months twice, 1989-90 and 1999-2000, and Giridhar Gamang, a senior tribal leader, who again served as CM for a few months in 1999, Odisha CMs have mostly hailed from the better-developed and more populated coastal region. This time, the BJP won most of the seats in the tribal-dominated districts, where the Sangh Parivar has been active through outfits such as Vanvasi Kalyan Manch for several years. The tribal population has historically backed the Congress or voted for parties that emphasised tribal identity and promised agency to them, as in the case of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). The ground is shifting, and the BJP has wielded political office as an instrument to turn it to its advantage. The choice of Droupadi Murmu, also an Odia and also a tribal, for the country’s highest public office, for instance, had a political resonance.

Another factor that may have influenced the BJP’s calculations is the upcoming assembly elections in Jharkhand. The BJP is facing a perception crisis in Jharkhand following the arrest of former CM and JMM leader Hemant Soren in an alleged land scam, which the INDIA bloc projected as a vindictive action against a tall tribal leader: The last time BJP held office in Jharkhand, it appointed a non-tribal, the current Odisha governor Raghubar Das, as CM. Majhi’s elevation may help dispel this perception to some extent, and convince tribal voters that the party backs leaders from the community. Recently, the party picked Vishnu Deo Sai, a tribal leader, as CM of Chhattisgarh overlooking the claims of many better-known politicians.

Majhi replaces Naveen Patnaik, who inherited Biju Patnaik’s political legacy, had an uninterrupted run as CM for nearly a quarter century, and steered Odisha’s transition from a basket case to one of the fastest-growing states in the country. No two leaders could be more different, and that, in fact, could turn out to be an advantage for Majhi. His challenge is to build on the gains the state has made under Patnaik — but leave his own stamp.

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