Odisha Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy resigned from his post on Thursday amid mounting criticism over his alleged links with accused persons in a case pertaining to the Pipili gang rape.
Mr. Maharathy's resignation came following Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's statement on Wednesday that he would take a decision on dropping the Minister in a day or two.
The Minister, who represents Pipili constituency in the Assembly, however, wrote in his letter to the Chief Minister that he wanted to resign on moral grounds and to safeguard Mr. Patnaik's image.
The Minister's resignation was accepted by Governor Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare after Mr. Patnaik forwarded it.
Mr. Maharathy, who was inducted into the Cabinet last May, had been under attack from Opposition parties as well as various social organisations and activists during the past few weeks for allegedly shielding those involved in the Pipili case in which a Dalit girl was gang-raped by four persons last November.
The 19-year-old victim was allegedly targeted as she was the prime witness in an alleged gang rape case that took place in her village in 2008 in which her friend was the victim.
The Pipili police, who had not registered a case on the basis of the victim's complaint in November, registered the same earlier this month following a direction from the State Human Rights Commission.
The main Opposition parties such as the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, were not satisfied with Mr. Maharathy's resignation, and sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the incident. They immediately reiterated their demand for the resignation of the Chief Minister who holds the Home portfolio.
Stir to continue
The Opposition announced that it would continue its agitation across the State to highlight its demand that the government transfer the investigation of the case from the Crime Branch of the State police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a fair probe.
Terming Mr. Maharathy's resignation “a drama” aimed at saving the Chief Minister from further embarrassment, Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik said: “Mr. Patnaik should own moral responsibility and step down.”
Senior BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra too demanded the Chief Minister's resignation. The agitation seeking Mr. Patnaik's resignation and a CBI investigation into the Pipili case would continue in the days to come, he added.
Meanwhile, the Odisha Gana Samaj, which had been spearheading the agitation by bringing many Opposition parties and social organisations together, said it would continue its agitation demanding a CBI probe into the case.
Buck stops with Patnaik
“If anybody had to take moral responsibility for what has happened in Pipili it should be the Chief Minister,” observed Rabi Das, one of the conveners of the Gana Samaj.