Once counted among the most influential politicians in his home state Odisha, Dilip Ray was seen as someone who could move seamlessly in politics. From Janata Dal in the 1990s to the BJD, Congress and a resurgent BJP in recent years, he had friends across the political spectrum, based largely on mutual interests.
Ray, 66, was convicted earlier this month of “abusing his official position” by a special CBI court in New Delhi in connection with an alleged scam in a two-decade-old coal block allocation case when he was a Union Minister. On Monday, he was sentenced to three years in jail.
Known as a “low-profile but highly resourceful man” in his inner circles, the hotelier-politician’s rise in Odisha’s political scene had been steep and fast, backed to a certain extent by the late Biju Patnaik, the Janata Dal stalwart.
Ray was elected to the Odisha Assembly in 1985 on a Janata Party ticket, barely months after he stepped into public life as chairman of the notified area council in his hometown Rourkela. Five years later, he was re-elected in the Janata Dal wave, and made a Minister by Biju Patnaik.
Considered an introvert in his initial years, Ray’s transition from hospitality — he started with a small hotel in 1982 that has expanded today into the Mayfair Group of Hotels that he heads across five states — to politics was smooth, largely because of his family links.
“Former Chief Minister Nilamani Routray was his distant relative. His father [who was into business] was also active in local politics. He grew up in a political space. Late Biju Patnaik took him along for a Janata Dal meeting from his house and introduced him to his party members. After this, there was no looking back for him,” says a close friend of Ray’s.
In April 1996, Ray made it to Delhi, getting elected to Rajya Sabha for the first of his two consecutive terms. Barely two months later, he was inducted into the H D Deve Gowda ministry.
In the next government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Ray was made the Minister of State for Coal in 1999. By this time, he was in the BJD, a regional party formed after Biju Patnaik’s death. It was also the time Biju Patnaik’s son Naveen Patnaik, a hesitant politician initially, had started asserting himself in the party.
In 2002, Ray was expelled from the BJD, after a fallout with Naveen — who had by then taken charge as the Chief Minister.
The exit from the BJD may have been a setback for Ray — but only briefly. That same year, he was re-elected to Rajya Sabha, this time as an Independent, with support from some MLAs from the BJP, an ally of Naveen’s BJD.
But Ray’s search for a party to resurrect his political fortunes continued. He joined the Opposition Congress in 2004, quitting it four years later. In 2009, he joined the BJP, while it was still looking to make gains in the state.
In 2014, he was elected to the Assembly on a BJP ticket from Rourkela. But by then, an issue relating to his tenure in the Coal Ministry in 1999 had come under the court’s radar. In 2012, the CBI had registered an FIR against Ray on directions from the Supreme Court for alleged irregularities in allotment of a coal block in Jharkhand when he was the Union Minister.
In 2018, Ray quit the BJP along with Bijoy Mohapatra, an old colleague from his BJD days who had challenged Naveen’s leadership, accusing the then BJP leadership of treating them as “furniture”.
Ray’s exit from the BJP coincided with the growing presence of Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in the party state unit. Incidentally, Ray quit the BJP one year after charges were framed against him in the coal scam case.
Ray also quit active politics, although there was speculation for a brief while of him rejoining the BJD after a visit to Naveen’s residence in 2019.
He remains in the hotel business.
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