Ex-Odisha CM's tribal status under probe

 A controversy has erupted over the tribal status of senior Congress leader and former Odisha chief minister Hemananda Biswal following allegations that he had faked his status to win elections from constituencies reserved for tribal candidates.

The state government has begun an inquiry into the allegations after receiving a letter in this regard from the National Commission from Scheduled Tribes (NCST). Biswal, a two-time chief minister, is currently a Lok Sabha member from the tribal-dominated Sundergarh constituency in western Odisha.

The NCST’s letter to the state government to inquire into the senior tribal leader’s caste status was based on a petition filed by another senior tribal leader from Odisha, former Union minister Joel Oram.

Oram, the BJP state unit chief, had contested the last Lok Sabha elections from Sundergarh and had lost to Biswal after representing the constituency for three consecutive terms from 1998 to 2009. According to Oram, Biswal is a Khandayat Bhuyan, a caste which has not been granted the scheduled tribe status in Odisha. Only Bhuyan, Papdi Bhuyan and Pahadi Bhuyan enjoy the tribal status in the state. “He is a Khandayat Bhuyan and, therefore, he is not a tribal. How can he enjoy scheduled tribe benefits when he is not a tribal,” asked Oram, who was a minister in the NDA cabinet at the Centre under A B Vajpayee.

Biswal, on his part, has competely rejected the allegations against him and said that he was ready to face any type of inquiry to prove his tribal status. According to him, he is only a Bhuyan and not a Khandayat Bhuyan as claimed by Oram.

His (Biswal’s) family caste has been Bhuyan for generations. During his four-decade long political career he had fought 11 elections, both to the state assembly and Parliament, but had never had such wild allegations made against him, he stated. The Congress veteran has threatened to slam a defamation suit against Oram besides lodging a criminal complaint against him.

In his petition to the NCST, Oram has also made similar allegations against two sitting Congress MLAs from Sundergarh district, Prafulla Majhi and Yogesh Kumar Singh, besides two ruling BJD leaders from the district, Sunil Singhdeo and Sanjeev Pratap Singhdeo, who had contested unsuccessfully the last Assembly elections in 2009.

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