Mohan Charan Majhi: A new beginning

The BJP’s tribal face, who rose through party ranks to become Odisha’s Chief Minister, has great challenges to tackle and big shoes to fill

Updated - June 16, 2024 06:53 pm IST

Published - June 16, 2024 02:33 am IST

On June 11, the day he was chosen by his party as the next Chief Minister of Odisha, Mohan Charan Majhi spent over two-and-a-half hours near a mortuary, comforting the grieving family of his personal assistant who had died in a road accident earlier that day. Mr. Majhi stayed by their side until the post-mortem was completed.

Mr. Majhi knew that he was a front-runner for the top job. BJP central observers were already in the State. But he did not let his aspirations get the better of his values. Before finally leaving for the BJP’s party office, he made sure that the family members of his associate did not have to face any hassle. This approach towards service helped him win over the trust of both the voters and his party colleagues.

Mr. Majhi, the BJP’s prominent tribal face of Odisha, looks calm and composed even in the face of a historic victory. After his ascend to the top post, he has already displayed that his humble upbringing, grounded values and doggedness to get works done would define his tenure.

Mr. Majhi has already traversed a long distance in his political journey: he became a sarpanch on his debut and has won the Keonjhar Assembly constituency four times before holding the CM’s post.

“The humility and espousing people’s cause are defining traits of his character. He could go to any length, even at the cost of his own reputation, to stand by his constituents,” remarks Birakishore Mohanta, a mentor who guided Mr. Majhi in the early stages of his career.

Hailing from the Santal tribe, Mr. Majhi began his professional journey as a teacher at Saraswati Sishu Mandir, a school associated with the RSS, in Jhumpura, Keonjhar district, earning a modest salary.

Assembly performance

When Mr. Majhi was first elected to the Odisha Assembly in 2000, he was shy, reticent and kept a distance from the complex political circles. However, by his second term as a legislator in 2004, he became more active, with the party making him the deputy chief whip. During a decade-long lean period after losing two consecutive elections, he focused on furthering his education.

On his return to the Assembly in 2019, Mr. Majhi emerged as a key BJP leader. With the Leader of Opposition, Pradipta Naik, bedridden due to COVID-19, and his successor, Jayanarayan Mishra, frequently absent, Mr. Majhi seized the opportunity to become the leading voice of the BJP in the Assembly.

He was credited to have moved seven private member Bills, including the Odisha Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill, 2020, and the Odisha Mahila Gram Sabha Bill, 2021. Very few MLAs come to the Assembly for discussion as well-prepared as Mr. Majhi.

Does humility alone make someone a good leader? Critics have raised scepticism about his vision, pointing out that the new CM lacks administrative experience. However, those who have closely worked with him dismiss the cynicism, saying he was an efficient chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

During past five years, Mr. Majhi had written 3,007 letters to the Central, State and district authorities to bring administrative improvements in Keonjhar, which boasts of having India’s 25% of iron ore deposit in a single district, but also has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of stunted, underweight children and anaemic pregnant women in Odisha.

Despite facing humiliation from the State government and mining entities, Mr. Majhi, the only opposition MLA in the district at one point, did not step back from taking up people’s issues.

The new BJP CM has never been apologetic about his Sangh Parivar connection. He was seen openly supporting a campaign for the release of Dara Singh, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.

Now, as the BJP’s first Chief Minister of Odisha, the 52-year-old former RSS worker has great responsibilities on his shoulder and pretty big shoes to fill, as he replaced Naveen Patnaik, who led the State for 24 years.

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