Only a thorough and unbiased investigation ~ scarcely manifest thus far ~ will unravel the truth of the scandal around the rape at Pipili, the Odisha agriculture minister’s constituency. Pradeep Maharathy may have at once deepened the mystery and rocked the ruling BJD’s applecart barely four months before the Lok Sabha election.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party is not really a contender against the Biju Janata Dal, it is fairly palpable that the Prime Minister’s speech in Baripada, blaming the state government for its failure to provide justice to the victim, has hastened the resignation. Equally, chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s directive to Maharathy to put in his papers has followed Mr Narendra Modi’s admonition. The minister’s claim that he had resigned on his own volition and that he did not want the party to be under pressure holds no water and is of a piece with his apology if his “statement had hurt anybody. The victim belongs to my constituency from where I have been blessed by the people for five terms.” The sentimental tosh has now been exposed fair and square.
The head of government may arguably have acceded to mounting pressure by the women’s wing of the Congress and the BJP to dismiss Maharathy and order a CBI probe. Considerable, therefore, has been the pressure of parties and politics on the BJD.
Clearly, the investigation by the state authorities has made no headway. This is borne out by the acquittal of the two accused, prompting Maharathy to remark that truth had prevailed and justice done. Not quite. In point of fact, as is generally believed in Odisha, neither has happened. Yet his statement has brought him under a cloud further still. It is not often that a minister resigns twice over the same issue in course of the ruling party’s tenure.
The matter has been hanging fire for nearly seven years. It would be pertinent to recall that Maharathy had resigned as minister in 2012 in the wake of the furore over the rape. And yet he was “rewarded” with the BJD’s nomination. Nay more, after he won in 2014 he was even made a minister for agriculture, a critical portfolio in a predominantly rural state.
Regretfully, the incident has acquired political overtones, with the Congress and the BJP ramping up the pressure on the BJD government even after the resignation. The Union petroleum minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, has promptly visited Pipili to meet the victim’s parents, who have been shrilling for justice in the wake of the resignation, which has not been able to deflect the focus from the core issue. That focus cannot be deflected by the minister’s resignation. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ought to have been firmer than he has been with the minister and in dealing with the outrage at Pipili. His government’s image has been dented and he has been embarrassed no end.