A day after BJP Mahila Morcha picketed the residence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik protesting Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy’s comments on the Pipli rape verdict, Congress women leaders on their way to the same spot got into a scuffle with the police.
Maharathy has been under fire from the opposition parties after he last month hailed a lower court verdict acquitting two persons accused of rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in his constituency of Pipli in 2011.
“We will continue protests till Pradeep Maharathy is expelled from the cabinet”, said Congress leader Bijaylakhmi Sahoo, adding that the accused were arrested from his farmhouse. “Police could not find evidence related to the rape, but can drag protesting women off the streets”, she accused.
Two senior BJD leaders told The Indian Express that there is talk in the party that CM Naveen Patnaik is upset over the minister’s statements, which have knocked the party’s pro-women image in the state. “Maharathy may be dropped from the cabinet. He unnecessarily handed the opposition a stick to beat the BJD. There was no need for him to comment”, a BJD leader said.
However, BJD leaders also say dropping Maharathy, the six-term MLA from Pipli and a senior minister in the state government, is not an easy decision.
“She was an innocent girl. I am saying it again that while I am sad over the verdict, but milk is milk and water is water. The truth cannot be suppressed”, Maharathy had commented on the verdict. After the opposition demanded his resignation, the minister apologized for his remarks.
In 2012, Maharathy had resigned on “moral grounds” as Agriculture Minister after criticism over alleged links with the accused in the case. After spending four months in a coma, the girl died in 2012 at Cuttack’s SCB Medical College and Hospital from a heart attack and complications related to septicemia.