BHUBANESWAR, May 22 (PTI): Senior BJD lawmakers Bikram Keshari Arukha, Sundam Marndi and Sarada Prasad Nayak on Monday took oath as ministers in the cabinet of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Governor Ganeshi Lal administered the oath of office to the three cabinet ministers at a function held at the convention centre on the premises of Lok Seva Bhavan here in the presence of the CM.
The three BJD leaders had earlier served as ministers and were possibly re-inducted to give a better representation from Odisha’s different regions and as they wield local-level influence needed to take on the BJP in crucial national and state elections next year.
While Arukha has been allotted the Finance portfolio, Marndi has been made the School and Mass Education Minister and Nayak the minister for Labour and Employees’ State Insurance Department.
The three ministers were inducted after the resignation of Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash and Labour Minister Srikant Sahu from their posts on May 12. Besides, one post was laying vacant following the killing of the then health minister Naba Kishore Das on January 29.
Parliamentary Affairs and Health Minister Niranjan Pujari was looking after the Finance Department, while Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Pramila Mallik was also holding the Labour and Employees’ State Insurance Department.
Both Arukha and Marndi were dropped from the council of ministers during the previous reshuffle held in June last year. Nayak had also earlier (2009 to 2012) served as a Minister of State (MoS) in the Patnaik cabinet.
While Arukha was appointed as the speaker of the assembly, Marndi continued to work as a lawmaker from Bangiriposi assembly seat in Mayurbhanj district and Nayak as the MLA of Rourkela in Sundergarh district.
With the induction of the three new ministers, the strength of the cabinet has mounted to 22, including the CM.
While picking up the new ministers, Patnaik has maintained a balance among the regions. While Arukha, a six-time MLA from Bhanjanagar in Ganjam district, has influence in the southern districts, Marndi is a prominent tribal leader from Mayurbhanj district in the northern part of Odisha. Nayak represents the western region of the state.
Arukha, who was made the speaker of the assembly last year, resigned from the post on May 12 citing personal reasons.
With Lok Sabha and state assembly elections due next year, Patnaik considered Arukha to be helpful for the party and took her back in the cabinet, party insiders said.
With the opposition BJP making inroads in tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district banking on Droupadi Murmu’s elevation as the President, Marndi’s induction into the cabinet was aimed at checking the saffron party’s growth in the state’s northern region, they said.
Starting his political career in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Marndi was elected to the assembly four times, twice each on JMM and BJD tickets.
He was also elected to the Lok Sabha from Mayurbhanj on a JMM ticket. He served as MoS in the Patnaik cabinet from 2014 to 2019 and later worked as a cabinet minister in charge of the Revenue and Disaster Management Department from 2019 to 2022.
Of the nine assembly segments in Mayurbhanj district, the BJP has six members while the BJD has only three seats. Basanti Hembram from Mayurbhanj is already an MoS.
Similarly, the BJD hopes to boost its performance in Sundergarh district with the induction of three-time MLA Sarada Prasad Nayak into the cabinet. He represents the steel city of Rourkela in the assembly.
Of the seven assembly segments in the district, the BJP has three MLAs, while the BJD has two legislators and the Congress and CPI(M) have one each.