Why Was Western Odisha’s Tribal MP Jual Oram Excluded From Modi 2.0 Cabinet?

BJP MP Jual Oram. (Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The political circles in Odisha are abuzz with the news of  exclusion of the first Union Tribal Minister of India and the prominent tribal face of BJP from the council of ministers in Modi 2.0, giving ammunition to the opposition parties in Odisha, who accused BJP of cheating the people of western Odisha. While the entire nation was celebrating the victory with Narendra Modi taking oath along with his council of ministers, the surprise exclusion of the prominent tribal face of BJP Shri Jual Oram, the hope of western Odisha, disappointed the BJP workers, supporters and intellectuals across the state.

Anticipating a major electoral loss in 2019 national election after the defeat in the state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and the formation of Mahagathbandan in Uttar Pradesh, BJP eyed eastern India with major focus on Odisha and West Bengal, to recover from the loss in U.P. and the Hindi heartland. However, ending all media speculations, Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the modern-day Chanakya BJP President Shri Amit Shah, got an overwhelming mandate. People of India reposed faith on the leadership of the Modi-Shah duo, and BJP once again formed the union government under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi.

BJP increased its tally in Odisha from one member of parliament, Jual Oram from Sundargarh, in 2014 to eight parliamentarians in 2019, with an increase in the vote share from 21.9% to 38.4% in the recently concluded general election. Though it could not topple the ruling BJD (Biju Janata Dal) government in Odisha, as envisioned by its national president with “MISSION ODISHA 120+” strategy, it still managed to win 23 seats in comparison to only 11 seats in 2014.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – MAY 30: President Ram Nath Kovind administers oath of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Narendra Modi took oath along with 57 union ministers on 30th May 2019. People of Odisha had high hopes for getting at least three ministerial berths in Modi’s cabinet, but they had to satisfy with only two. While Dharmendra Pradhan retained his previous ministry, Pratap Sarangi, first time member of parliament from Baleswar, was also included in the list. The exclusion of Jual Oram was a complete surprise to political observers, and didn’t go down well with the people of Odisha.

The former Union minister has been an obedient soldier in the journey of BJP’s struggle and growth  in Odisha. He is one among the two MLAs in BJP who managed to open the innings for BJP in Odisha. The two-time MLA and five-time MP created history by becoming India’s first tribal affairs minister, after Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, in 1999, created an independent ministry for tribal affairs.

The savior of BJP in 2014, the sole MP who managed to win his seat despite a massive wave in favour of the ruling BJD, which swept 20 out of 21 seats in Odisha, successfully served as the union tribal affairs minister under the Narendra Modi government. The firebrand tribal leader took many initiatives for the holistic development of the tribal population and kept the tribal vote bank intact with BJP. As a result of which, BJP has increased its tally by winning majority of the reserved ST seats in 2019. An analysis of the reserved seat shows that BJP increased its tally from 27 in 2014 to 31 in 2019 out of the total 47 reserved ST seats in the country.

Western Odisha has been the traditional vote base of BJP in Odisha. Out of the eight seats the national party own this time, 5 MPs are from Western Odisha and one is from the tribal dominated Mayurbhanj constituency, where Jual Oram has an influence over a significant size of the population. When it comes to the state assembly election BJP own 23 seats in total—out of which 11 MLAs are tribal. The tribal stalwart himself won with a margin of more than two lakh votes, which is highest among all the BJP MPs in Odisha.

The man who dedicated his entire life as a true soldier of BJP standing shoulder to shoulder during ups and downs of the national party, could not feature in the wish list of Modi’s second term—despite having a clean image as face savior of BJP in Odisha, with a long track record of political achievements and a victory with a heavy margin. It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister whom to include in his council of minister or whom not to include. The exact reason might be well-known to the ultimate decision maker, but there are many speculations surrounding it—in the intellectual sphere, and also on the streets…

Some are speculating that Oram was victimized like an old tree—which is dying an untimely death by being injected slow poison and losing one branch after another. Whereas some sense a deliberate conspiracy against the tribal leader by a fraction of the BJP, who gradually want to oust leaders, who might be strong contenders to the self declared BJP’s CM-in-waiting in Odisha.

What so ever the reason may be, Modi’s decision of not including a leader from Western Odisha is largely being seen as a betrayal to the people of Western Odisha. The decision, in absence of an immediate corrective action, might turn into a boomerang for the national party in the upcoming by-election, and in the days to come.

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