Murder Most Foul

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The broad daylight killing of Odisha health minister Naba Kishore Das has raised some serious issues, the most important of these being the security of VIPs in the state. While several theories about the motive behind the murder are doing the rounds, it is imperative that the Crime Branch, which is probing the case, resolve the mystery behind the killing.

The killing of Odisha Health and Family Welfare minister NabaKisore Das, who was shot from a close range by an assistant sub inspector of police in the western Odisha town of Brajarajnagar on January 29, has sent shockwaves through the state and also raised serious questions about VIP security in the state. Though attacks on politicians have taken place in the state before, this is the first case of a minister being killed in this manner.

What is most shocking is that the accused, Gopal Das was an assistant inspector (ASI) of police posted at the Gandhi Chowk police outpost in the industrial town of Brajarajnagar where Das had gone on the fateful day to attend a programme. Das, who is reported to have 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 where he was posted on traffic duty on the day. GupteswarBhoi, 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 has been subjected to intensive questioning by Crime Branch officers including Additional Director General (ADG) of police Arun Bothra. 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. How can such a leader be killed in such a manner? This raises serious questions of security,” said a senior politician who wished to remain anonymous.

However, leader of opposition Jayanarayan Mishra was more forthright in his criticism. He said how could a mentally unstable person be issued an official fire arm. Similar questions were raised also by other people.

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, 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, one hitting his shoulder and another his arm while he was returning home on his scooter in the night.  The assailant fled after the minister fell from his scooter. He was rushed to the district headquarters hospital and then shifted the Kalinga Hospital in Bhubaneswar. He survived the attack following a successful surgery by a team of doctors. Police later arrested mastermind Sradhamani Mohapatra and two shooters in this connection. The probe revealed the assailants opened fire at Mohanty to avenge the murder of TaluchhaBhagaban Mahapatra alias GunaSinghari, who was a senior servitor of the Jagannath Temple in Puri. The 70-year-old Sradhamani, the mother of GunaSinghari, had allegedly hired five contract killers, all former associates of her son, to take revenge for her son’s killing. She alleged that Maheswar Mohanty’s men were involved in GunaSinghari murder case.

Senior BJD leader and minister SudamMarndi 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. Marndi escaped by hiding in the nearby bushes but the Maoists gunned down three police personnel including his security guard after the football match.

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. Some motorcycle-borne assailants sprayed bullets at his car near BhadrasahiChhak, about 6 km from Barbil town. He was rushed to the government hospital at Barbil and later shifted to Tisco hospital at Joda where he was operated upon by three surgeons summoned from Keonjhar and Champua. He survived the attack as the doctors successfully removed 3 bullets from his lower abdomen and the thigh.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chandra Jena escaped unhurt when unidentified assailants opened fire at him on May 29, 2009. The incident occurred soon after he was elected from Sanakhemundi. He was returning home after attending a felicitation function organised by the district Bus Owners’ Association in Ganjam district. According to reports, two assailants opened fire at his vehicle. The leader alleged that the attack was a handiwork of his political opponents. He was attacked again in August 2010 when he had a narrow escape. Some unidentified persons hurled bombs at his vehicle in Patapur town, about 45 km from Berhampur city, in Ganjam district. Two years later four youths were nabbed by Berhampur police for their alleged involvement in the attack.

However, Naba Das, who was cremated 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. The state not only needs to improve VIP security but also resolve the mystery behind the minister’s killing.

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