All you wanted to know about Mohan Charan Majhi, the new Chief Minister of Odisha

The BJP’s selection of Majhi, an influential tribal leader, is being seen as a move to consolidate the community’s votes.

Published : Jun 13, 2024 16:01 IST - 4 MINS READ

Odisha Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi with Deputy Chief Ministers Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo and Pravati Parida and others during a visit to Jagannath Temple in Puri, on June 13.

Odisha Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi with Deputy Chief Ministers Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo and Pravati Parida and others during a visit to Jagannath Temple in Puri, on June 13. | Photo Credit: PTI

After 24 years, Odisha has a new Chief Minister. Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Mohan Charan Majhi, the influential tribal leader from Keonjhar, is the first BJP Chief Minister in Odisha. In the recently concluded Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party defeated the seemingly invincible Naveen Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal (BJD), winning 78 of the 147 Assembly seats (BJD got 51, and the Congress 14); it swept the Lok Sabha election by securing 20 of the 21 Parliamentary constituencies (Congress won one).

On June 12, 16 ministers (11 Cabinet Ministers and five Ministers of State) of the new cabinet were sworn in, including Majhi and two Deputy Chief Ministers: Pravati Parida, and Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo. Pravati Parida, a first-time MLA from Nimapara, is the first woman Deputy Chief Minister of Odisha. For Deo, a scion of the former royal family of Patna Balangir, this is the second stint in the Odisha cabinet: he has been Minister of Industry and Public Enterprise in the BJD-BJP coalition that ruled Odisha from 2000 to 2009.

The swearing-in ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda, and the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Goa, among several other Ministers. Naveen Patnaik, the iconic BJD supremo who ruled the State for over two decades, was also present, and judging by the reception he received at the ceremony, it was clear that even in defeat, he had lost neither his popularity nor the respect he commanded when in power.

Also Read | Naveen Patnaik: The fall of a titan

Majhi, 52, lived in poverty in Raikala village in Keonjhar. The son of a watchman, Majhi completed his graduation from Chandra Sekhar College in Keonjhar, and became involved with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He taught for a spell at the Jhumpura Saraswati Shishu Mandir. In 1997, Majhi was elected sarpanch of Raikala, and around the same time, was also made the Odisha secretary of the BJP’s Adivasi Morcha. In 2000 and 2004, he won the Keonjhar Assembly seat with a BJP ticket, and served as the deputy chief whip for four years (2004-2009) in the BJD-BJP coalition government. Though he lost the Keonjhar seat in two successive elections (2009 and 2014), Majhi won back the constituency in 2019; and this year, he won by securing more than 47 per cent of the votes. He was also a member of the Standing Committee of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under the Orissa Reservation of Vacancies in Post and Services (For SC and ST) Act, 1975, and the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee in the State (2022 to 2024).

Cabinet composition

The BJP’s selection of Majhi is also being perceived as a clever move, with an eye to securing the tribal votes. The tribal population in Odisha accounts for around 23 per cent of the total population, and has traditionally supported the Congress and later the BJD. Over the past few years, however, the BJP began to make inroads into this support-base. The saffron party began to gain wider acceptance among the tribal people in Odisha after former BJP minister and MLA from Rairangpur, Droupadi Murmu was elected President of India in 2022. In this Assembly election, the BJP won 18 of the 33 reserved Scheduled Tribes (ST) seats, wresting away nine seats from the BJD and the Congress. Political observers believe that the BJP’s choice of Majhi at the helm would help in the consolidation of ST votes in the days to come.

Veteran political analyst from Odisha, Rabi Das points out that one of the most important factors in the composition of the cabinet, is the BJP “shattering” the feudal mindset in Odia politics. Das told Frontline, “For the first time in Odisha, the lower caste is dominating the cabinet. I always felt the BJP was a party of the upper caste, but this cabinet seems to be changing that perception. If you look at the composition of the cabinet, you will see there are three tribal ministers, including the Chief Minister; there is a Dalit minister; and there are representatives from the farming caste, and warrior caste. Among the upper castes there is only one Brahmin and one Kayasta. The upper castes, who have always ruled the State, are nowhere in the picture.”

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