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Odisha Cabinet reshuffle: Eye on polls, Naveen Patnaik brings back three former ministers

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday rejigged his Council of Ministers, the second such exercise in as many years. The CM inducted senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLAs Bikram Keshari Arukha, Sudam Marndi, and Sarada Prasad Nayak into the Cabinet. Governor Ganeshi Lal administered the oath of office to the three at a special function at the State Convention Centre in Bhubaneswar.

The three ministers belong to three different regions — south, north and west — of Odisha and earlier served as ministers in Patnaik’s Cabinet during different terms.

Bikram Keshari Arukha

Arukha, 59, has been representing the Bhanjanagar Assembly constituency in Patnaik’s home district Ganjam since 1995 and was the Assembly Speaker till his resignation from the post on May 12. A six-time MLA, Arukha was first elected to the Assembly on a Janata Dal ticket. He has held several key portfolios in the Odisha Cabinet since 2009 and was elected Speaker last June.

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The exit of Srikanta Sahu as Labour Minister is believed to have paved the way for Arukha’s return to the Cabinet. Sahu, the MLA from Polasara in Ganjam district, resigned from the Cabinet on May 12 after a woman BJD worker accused him of sexual exploitation.

A seasoned leader with strong organisational skills, Arukha’s entry into the Cabinet indicates he may get an important organisational responsibility in Ganjam ahead of the Assembly and general elections next year.

Sudam Marndi

By bringing in Marndi, 55, the MLA from Bangiriposi in Mayurbhanj, and 63-year-old Nayak, the legislator from Rourkela in Sundargarh district, the ruling BJD seems to be attempting to check the BJP’s growth in both the tribal-dominated districts.

Marndi is a prominent tribal face of the party. He started his political career in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and was elected thrice to the Assembly — 1990, 1995, and 2000 — on a JMM ticket. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Mayurbhanj in 2004 on a JMM ticket. He joined the BJD ahead of the 2014 elections and has been an MLA since then. In February 2016, Marndi and his family were ostracised by Santhali tribesmen as “punishment” for his daughter marrying a Diku, a person from outside the tribe. However, it did not dent his electoral prospect in 2019 and he won by more than 12,000 votes.

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Marndi was among those dropped from the Cabinet last June during a reshuffle. His reinduction in less than a year is seen as an attempt by the BJD to regain the lost ground in Mayurbhanj district. In 2019, the BJP not just won the Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat but also bagged six of the nine Assembly seats in the district. The rest went to the BJD.

The BJP’s Mayurbhanj MP, Bishweswar Tudu, is currently the Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti and Tribal Affairs. The BJP is also trying to cash in on its move to make Droupadi Murmu, who is from Mayurbhanj, India’s first President from the Adivasi community.

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With Karanjia MLA Basanti Hembram already accommodated in the Cabinet, Mayurbhanj district will now have two ministers in the Patnaik Cabinet.

Sarada Prasad Nayak

The entry of three-time MLA Nayak into the Cabinet is also seen as an attempt to counter the BJP, which has emerged strong in Sundargarh in recent years. Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Jual Oram retained the Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat in 2019. The party also controls three of the seven MLA seats in the district. The BJD won two Assembly seats in Sundargarh in 2019.

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Nayak is also believed to have been rewarded for his hard work in the recent Jharsuguda by-election where the ruling party won by more than 48,000 votes.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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