A murder most foul comes to haunt Odisha government

A murder most foul comes to haunt Patnaik government in Odisha

The development has certainly become a matter of worry for the Patnaik-led regional outfit as panchayat and municipal elections in the state are just months away

The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha finds itself on a sticky wicket in the wake of the gruesome murder of a young lady schoolteacher in western Kalahandi district. The BJP and the Congress, the two principal opposition parties in the state, have launched a series of agitations across the state alleging that Dibya Shankar Mishra, the minister of state in the sensitive home department, was involved in the conspiracy that was hatched to eliminate the 23-year-old schoolteacher. They have demanded that the minister should be removed from his post immediately and the police should arrest him. Kalahandi is minister Mishra’s home district.

While the state unit of the BJP has already organised bandhs in different districts on different days, the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) had recently called a six-hour state-wide shut down to put pressure on Patnaik, who also heads the BJD, to sack the junior minister. Both parties have also demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), charging the state police which is currently handling the case with trying to shield the minister. “How can the police conduct a fair probe against its own minister”, the opposition leaders have questioned.

The development has certainly become a matter of worry for the Patnaik-led regional outfit as panchayat and municipal elections in the state are just months away. Both BJP and Congress have already given enough hints that they would make law-and-order a major poll plank in the coming local body elections.

“The rapidly deteriorating law-and-order situation, particularly the alleged involvement of state ministers in major crimes like murder, will definitely be a poll issue in the coming elections”, the leaders of both the opposition parties have said.

It all started on October 8, when Mamita Meher, the young lady principal of a private school in Mahaling in western Odisha’s Kalahandi district, mysteriously went missing while on her way to the school from her residence. Her parents alleged that she had been kidnapped by Gobinda Sahu, the owner of the private high school who is also reportedly close to minister Mishra. The pilot-turned-politician represents Junagarh constituency in Kalahandi district in the state Assembly.

The local police launched a manhunt to nab the 54-year-old Sahu and managed to track him down. A twist in the case came when he escaped from police custody. The police again began a search and within a couple of days found him hiding in a sugarcane field belonging to one of his relatives.

Sahu initially denied his involvement in the murder but gave in after a thorough interrogation, the police said. He is said to have confessed to the police that he strangled Mamita Meher to death inside his car after an argument. After killing her, he cut her body into pieces, burnt them and buried the remaining parts in an under-construction stadium with the help of one his close aides, Radhe.

Police took him to the spot for verification and recovered bones as well as a few half-burnt personal belongings of Mamita Meher, which were subsequently identified by her family members. Meher was aware of Sahu’s extra-marital affairs and was blackmailing him on the issue, Sahu reportedly revealed before his interrogators. After nabbing his associate Radhe, the local police told the media that barring the two no other person was involved in the sensational killing.

But the Opposition refused to buy the police theory and insisted that the woman was silenced because she was aware of the misdeeds of not only the owner of her school but that of minister Mishra, who frequented the institution, too. He was also helping the school to get government aid. Many immoral and illegal activities were going on in the school, the Opposition alleged, adding that Sahu was deliberately allowed to escape from police custody for a couple of days to destroy evidences.

After maintaining total silence on the matter for a few days, the junior home minister hit back at the Opposition, saying that he was in no way involved in the case and that the Opposition was unnecessarily and intentionally dragging his name into it.

“I am not involved in the case. Hang me if you have evidence”, he said. The former Indian Air Force pilot also said that his family had already filed defamation cases against a few local TV news channels and media houses for spreading canards against him and his family at the behest of the opposition parties.

The controversy took an interesting turn when a photograph surfaced in the local media and on social media sites which showed senior state Congress leader and former Union minister Bhakta Charan Das attending a function in the Mahaling school. Sitting on the dais alongside him was the murder-accused Sahu. The former Lok Sabha member from Kalahandi had also reportedly extended financial assistance to the school when he was a parliamentarian. Das’ son is reported to have been a member of the managing committee of the school at one point of time.

This development provided an excellent opportunity to the ruling BJD which had strongly backed minister Mishra to say that the Opposition was maintaining a double standard. “The entire episode was nothing but an attempt by the BJP and the Congress to make political capital by spreading lies and falsehood against the minister and our party. The people of the state know very well who is who and what is what”, said senior BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty.

But, as the twists and turns in the case continue, the BJD will have to be wary of the impact the case might have on the party’s reputation and its prospects in the coming local body elections.

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