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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

‘Stained’ face of Patnaik’s successor, Mohan Charan Majhi's stand on Dara Singh sparks row

Majhi, then BJP MLA from Keonjhar, had on September 21, 2022, sat on a dharna alongside the editor of a Right-wing news channel in support of the journalist’s demand to be allowed to meet Dara aka Rabindra Pal Singh in Keonjhar jail

Subhashish Mohanty Bhubaneswar Published 15.06.24, 06:09 AM
Mohan Charan Majhi (extreme right) during the dharna in front of the Keonjhar district jail on September 21, 2022

Mohan Charan Majhi (extreme right) during the dharna in front of the Keonjhar district jail on September 21, 2022 Sourced by the Telegraph

Naveen Patnaik’s successor as Odisha chief minister, Mohan Charan Majhi of the BJP, recently lobbied for the release of Dara Singh, serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his minor sons.

Majhi, 52, who finds himself embroiled in controversy barely 48 hours after being sworn in, has not responded to the allegation, buttressed by a video from two years ago that is circulating on social media.

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Majhi, then BJP MLA from Keonjhar, had on September 21, 2022, sat on a dharna alongside the editor of a Right-wing news channel in support of the journalist’s demand to be allowed to meet Dara aka Rabindra Pal Singh in Keonjhar jail.

“Dara Singh has already been in jail for 21 years. It’s illegal to confine him for 21 years. Life imprisonment means one should be released after 14 years,” Majhi appears to say in the purported video of the dharna.

The Supreme Court has clarified that a life term remains in force till the natural death of the convict, and that while a lifer is entitled to seek remission from the State after 14 years in jail, the grant of remission is not a right.

“Many people who killed our soldiers have been set free…. Why can a man like Dara Singh not be released?” Majhi appears to say in the video.

Neither Majhi nor his party — clearly embarrassed by the controversy — has denied or confirmed the authenticity of the video. Attempts to contact the chief minister were futile.

The allegations — being made for the first time — have taken most people by surprise.

“Not only did Majhi sit on a dharna with the editor, he also demanded the release of Dara Singh from jail. We have newspaper clippings to support this. As he was not a big shot then, no one took notice,” state Congress spokesperson Amiya Pandav said.

“Majhi has an RSS background. With him as chief minister, the RSS is trying to push its agendas, such as the release of Dara Singh.”

Advocate Bana Bihari Mohanty, who represented Dara during his trial, confirmed that Dara had not applied for remission. “It’s because jail authorities were not cooperating with us. Now, we will apply for remission as we expect them to cooperate,” he told The Telegraph.

A mob led by Dara Singh had on January 22-23 night in 1999 burnt alive Staines and his sons Philip (10) and Timothy (6) while they were asleep inside their station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district. The trio were attending a jungle camp.

Dara, arrested on January 31, 2000, has spent more than 24 years in jail.

Suresh Chavhanke, editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, had on September 21, 2022, come to meet Dara, who is still lodged in Keonjhar district jail. Jail authorities denied permission for the meeting.

Chavhanke then sat on dharna in front of the jail. Majhi — then the local MLA, the BJP’s deputy leader in the Assembly, and the Opposition chief whip — joined him.

Before taking the plunge into politics, Majhi had taught for some time at the RSS-controlled Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir.

State BJP vice-president Golak Mohapatra said: “Mohan Majhi is from the tribal belt. He has won the hearts of the people within 24 hours of taking oath as chief minister. Now an attempt is being made to malign him.”

Subhankar Ghosh, personal assistant of Gladys Staines (wife of Graham) and her spokesperson in Odisha, told this newspaper: “This revelation (about Majhi’s demand for Dara’s release) was shocking for me. But as he has been elected chief minister and has been in office for just two days, we must give all of our support to take the state on the path of development. Raking up the past will serve no purpose. We have to move forward.”

Gladys Staines had a few years after the murders of her husband and sons told the media she had forgiven the killers.

Church authorities were reluctant to speak on the latest controversy.

“He has just been sworn in as chief minister. We will talk about the issue later,” said Bibhudatta Das, secretary, Church of North India.

Mohanty, Dara’s lawyer, said the CBI had arrested 13 people in the case. “The high court acquitted 11 people. But Dara Singh and another accused, Budhadeb Nayak, are serving life sentences. Nayak is in Bhubaneswar jail,” he said.

“Earlier, the sessions court had awarded the death sentence to Dara. But in May 2005, Orissa High Court commuted it to life imprisonment as it could not be considered a ‘rarest of the rare’ case.”

Mohanty said the Supreme Court had in 2011 dismissed Dara’s appeal against the life sentence.

He said Dara was serving life sentences in two other murder cases, too. He was pronounced guilty in the August 1999 murder of a Muslim trader, S.K. Rehman, of Padiabeda village in Mayurbhanj district. A trial court handed him a life term in 2007.

Also in 2007, Dara and three others were sentenced to life for murdering the 35-year-old Catholic priest, Father Arul Doss, in September
1999 at Jamubani village, Mayurbhanj.

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