Odisha minister’s killing by cop has the police groping in dark

The killing of Odisha Health and Family Welfare minister Naba Kisore Das, who was shot dead by an assistant sub inspector of police in the western Odisha town of Brajarajnagar on January 29, raises question mark over security situation in the state, wrtes Arabinda Mohapatra

The killing of Odisha Health and Family Welfare minister Naba Kisore Das, who was shot dead by an assistant sub inspector of police in the western Odisha town of Brajarajnagar on January 29, has sent shockwaves through the state. This is the first case of a minister being murdered in this manner. 

What is most shocking is that the accused, Gopal Das was an assistant inspector of police posted at the Gandhi Chowk police outpost in the industrial town of Brajarajnagar. Das, who had earlier served as the personal security officer of the minister fired two shots at him from his newly issued service revolver. The police officer shot the minister even as he stepped out of his car to inaugurate an office at Gandhi Chowk in Brajrajnagar. While he collapsed and was immediately rushed to the local hospital from where he was airlifted to Bhubaneswar, the accused was overpowered by other policemen present on the occasion.

According to the police, the officer opened fire at Gandhi Chowk, Brajrajnagar, when the minister had gone to attend an official programme. Gupteswar Bhoi, sub-divisional police officer (Brajrajnagar), said that ASI Gopal Das, who was  posted at the Gandhi Chowk police outpost, opened fire at the minister taking everyone by surprise. “ The motive behind the attack remains unclear. We are investigating the matter,” said Bhoi. Das was today subjected to intensive questioning by Crime Branch Additional Director General (ADG) of police Arun Bothra at Jharsuguda. However, the ASI, whose family lives in Berhampur and who was being treated for bipolar disorder for the last several years, has not revealed much about his intentions.  

Two other persons including a police officer were also injured while trying to chase and overpower the ASI who tried to flee after the incident. He had been put in charge of traffic control in the Gandhi Chowk area on the day of the minister’s visit but he left his post and went near the minister’s car to shoot him which has deepened the mystery of death. While political leaders cutting across party lines have expressed grief at the minister’s death, many have raised issues of security lapses. Senior Congress leader Narasingha Mishra went to the extent of saying that it looks like a planned murder.

The incident has also tarnished the image of Odisha as a peaceful state with many describing the shooting as the state’s Bihar moment. “ He was a popular leader who was elected to the state assembly from Jharsuguda thrice. He was also a successful businessman. A leader like him being killed in this manner is no doubt disturbing,” said Jharsuguda resident Shashi Mishra.

However, this is certainly not the first case of a political murder in the state which has witnessed attacks on politicians in the past as well. At least five elected representatives in the state have been shot at since 2000. One of the most sensational of these attacks  was on ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Jagabandhu Majhi back in 2011. Majhi, an MLA from Umerkote Assembly Constituency, was the first major politician of the state to have been shot dead. He was gunned down on September 24, 2011 in his constituency while he was handing over land documents to poor tribals in Raighar Block in Nabarangpur district. His bodyguard was also killed in the incident. Later Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder of Majhi.

The ultras claimed through a local newspaper that the Mainpuri division of the CPI (Maoist) was responsible for the killing of the wheelchair-bound MLA . They alleged that the politician had tarnished the image of Maoists by collecting money in their name and he had got 12 people killed and put the blame on Maoists. Later, the prime accused in the sensational murder, Jani Salem of the Chhattisgarh Mainpur division surrendered before the police in Andhra Pradesh in 2014.

Former Puri MLA and minister Maheswar Mohanty, a powerful BJD leader, was shot at when he was the Law, Culture and Tourism Minister of the state in 2014. Two bullets were fired at him.

Senior BJD leader and minister Sudam Marndi was fired upon in his native Mayurbhanj district in 2009 when he a Lok Sabha member on Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ticket. Alleged Maoists had targeted him during his official visit to a football tournament at Bandap village under Chandua police station of the district.

Former Congress MLA from Keonjhar Dhanurjay Sidhu was shot at by unidentified assailants near the mining town of Barbil on February 26 in 2007. The gun attack took place when he was travelling in his vehicle. Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chandra Jena escaped unhurt when unidentified assailants opened fire at him on May 29, 2009.

However, Naba Das, who was cremated today with full state honours, was the first minister to have been shot dead in Odisha. His killing has raised serious questions about the security of political leaders in the state. His death still remains wrapped in mystery with the accused police officer yet to reveal his motives.