Mohan Charan Majhi: Tribal CM who wears Hindutva on his sleeves

Notably, Majhi extended support to the demand for release of the Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, the convict in the 1999 murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines.
Odisha CM  Mohan Charan Majhi
Odisha CM Mohan Charan MajhiExpress Illustration

The unassuming appearance with a childlike chubbiness is a deception. What hides behind is a man indomitable.A man who lives with the masses and fights for their cause with dogged determination. But, above all, a tribal who wears Hindutva on his sleeves. This is how one of his one-time close acquaintances describes Mohan Charan Majhi, the first BJP chief minister of Odisha.

Majhi, however, is the continuation of a larger Modi project across states where BJP is elected to power — a dark horse who is the message, the medium and the implementer.

In recent years and during the just concluded general elections, the Opposition have made an aggressive push to draw a distinction between Adivasis and Hindus and gone to the extent of demanding an independent religious code for tribals in the Census. Majhi is not only BJP’s biggest response to such contentions but also a strategic manoeuvre.

He hails from the Santal tribe, among the largest ethnic groups in the country spread across Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and several north eastern states.

President Droupadi Murmu belongs to this tribe. But, steeped in RSS culture, Majhi has never shied away from flaunting his Hindutva. Just two years back, even when he was the BJP chief whip in the state Assembly, he extended support to the demand for release of the Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, the convict in the 1999 murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines.

The Majhi government also started its innings on a religious note by opening all four gates of Puri Jagannath temple and the chief minister and his ministerial colleagues seen prostrating before the shrine.

But, there is much more to Majhi than his Sangh Parivar grooming. For all those who have known him from his early years, he has been a people’s person and a fighter. “Coming from a poor background in a tribal-dominated region, he has faced all the adversities first hand. He became a Swayamsevak in his childhood. His stint as a Guruji (teacher) in the RSS-run Saraswati Sishu Mandir school at Jhumpura in Keonjhar district, also infused the elements of compassion, perseverance and a no-nonsense approach to his personality. The qualities he has displayed all through his political career spanning over three decades,” says Biswamitra Mohanta, organisation secretary (eastern zone) of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, who had been associated with Majhi during his formative years.

Majhi’s tryst with politics started with him being elected as the sarpanch of his native village Raikala. After his stint in grassroots politics, he was given the ticket by BJP to fight the 2000 Assembly polls from Keonjhar. He went on to win 2000 and 2004 elections as part of the then BJD-BJP alliance. He made a slow start in state politics but by the second term, he had found his ground. He came to the forefront as a leading tribal rights voice in a state with over 22 per cent tribal population, and an anti-corruption crusader. He lost the two subsequent elections from 2009, but utilised his time gaining his MA and LLB degrees. He also worked extensively in the BJP as its general secretary in charge of several districts between 2013 and 2017.

Majhi, however, erupted on the state political stage when he re-entered the Assembly in 2019. He became the firebrand BJP face who ruthlessly took on the ruling BJD. As the Opposition chief whip, he stood out with his debates in the House and his stance on vital issues. He became a champion of people’s issues, forcing the government to take action. He was the most strident voice against tribal exploitation and corruption.

He was targeted by the ‘mining mafia’ and also faced bomb attack, but was undeterred. Majhi was even suspended from the Assembly in 2023 for throwing dal on the Speaker’s podium to draw attention to the `700 crore scam in purchase of pulses for the mid-day meal programme. He forced the rollback of amendment to the Odisha Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property Regulations, 1956, which allowed tribals to sell their land to non-tribals.

Not many were surprised at his selection as the first saffron CM of Odisha. Majhi has earned his spurs. But, how he navigates the political complexities and leads the government efficiently is to be seen. Those who know him well are confident.

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The New Indian Express