Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday unveiled the revamped Council of Ministers of his government, dropping some controversial names and giving more representation to the western region of the state where the BJP had performed well in the 2019 general elections.
The reshuffle came a day after all 20 ministers of the state resigned, paving the way for the reconstitution of the ministerial council. Patnaik inducted 13 MLAs into the Cabinet and appointed eight others as ministers of state with independent charge. Three of the five women ministers — Pramila Mallick, Usha Devi, and Tukuni Sahu — have Cabinet rank. Governor Ganeshi Lal administered the oath of office and secrecy to the new ministers at a ceremony held in the new convention centre of Lok Seva Bhawan in Bhubaneswar.
The CM dropped 11 ministers of both Cabinet and MoS ranks. Among the big names who did not find space in the new ministerial council are Law Minister Pratap Jena, who also held the portfolios of Panchayati Raj and Urban Development; Agriculture and Higher Education Minister Arun Kumar Sahoo; and Minister of State for Home Captain Dibya Shankar Mishra who got embroiled in a controversy last year following the murder of a woman schoolteacher in Kalahandi.
The Opposition demanded the resignation of Jena after his name surfaced in the Mahanga double murder case last year. It had also called on Sahoo to step down after he was accused of shielding an accused in the abduction and murder of a five-year-old girl in Nayagarh district in 2020.
The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) also did not retain Cabinet ministers Sudam Marndi (Revenue and Disaster Management), Padmanabha Behera (Commerce and Transport), Susanta Singh (Rural Development and Labour), and Bikram Keshari Arukha (Environment and Parliamentary Affairs). Arukha could become the new Assembly Speaker after Surjya Narayan Patro resigned on Saturday citing health reasons.
The Cabinet ministers who were retained are Niranjan Pujari, Ranendra Pratap Swain, Naba Kishore Das, Tukuni Sahu, and Prafulla Kumar Mallick. Ministers of State Jagannath Saraka and Ashok Chandra Panda were promoted to the Cabinet while Rajendra Dholakia became a Cabinet minister for the first time.
Among the ministers of state, Patnaik retained only Samir Ranjan Dash and Tusharkanti Behera. While Pramila Mallick, Usha Devi, Pratap Keshari Deb, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, and Pradip Kumar Amat have been ministers in the past, the rest are new faces, including Pritiranjan Ghadai, Srikant Sahu, and Rohit Pujari.
BJD leaders said some of the leaders dropped as ministers would be given organisational duties. In 2017 too, Patnaik had asked 10 of the 20 ministers in his government to resign. Five of them were then given the responsibilities of district units.
The ruling party’s functionaries pointed out west Odisha had got slightly greater representation this time around. Although the BJP suffered severe setbacks in the panchayat and urban local body elections in February, BJD insiders said the greater representation for some of the western districts showed Patnaik had his eyes on the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP won seats in the region such as Balasore, Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, and Sambalpur.
“Those who performed well as ministers were retained and those MLAs who performed well have been rewarded. And many of those dropped will be drafted into the organisation. After all, the idea is to prepare the party for the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections,” said a BJD MP.
– With PTI inputs