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Naba Kisore Das, political heavyweight in western Odisha, leaves behind imprint in State

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Former Odisha Health Minister Naba Kisore Das. Naba Das was shot dead by a policeman on January 29, 2023, before his mortal remains were consigned to flames with full State honours in Jharsuguda district on January 30, 2023.

Former Odisha Health Minister Naba Kisore Das. Naba Das was shot dead by a policeman on January 29, 2023, before his mortal remains were consigned to flames with full State honours in Jharsuguda district on January 30, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Thousands of mourners paid their respects to former Odisha Health and Family Welfare Minister Naba Kisore Das, who was shot dead by a policeman on January 29, 2023, before his mortal remains were consigned to flames with full State honours in Jharsuguda district on January 30, 2023.

Before his body was flown to Jharsuguda, political leaders cutting across party lines, including Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, paid homage to the departed soul in Bhubaneswar. Ministers and MLAs had waited till midnight on the campus of the Odisha Legislative Assembly to be able to pay their last respects to the Minister on Sunday.

The demise of Das brought to an end the career of a successful politician, who rose through the ranks from student politics to State politics, leaving an imprint on each field.

Odisha CM publicly acknowledged it saying, “He was an asset for both the government and the party. He has successfully carried out many initiatives in the Health Department to the benefit of the people.”

“As a leader, he was instrumental in strengthening Biju Janata Dal [BJD].  He was a grassroots person and was loved and respected by all, cutting across parties and sections of people. His death is a great loss to the State of Odisha,” Mr. Patnaik said in message.

Who was Naba Kisore Das?

Born on January 7, 1962 in Sambalpur district, Das hailed from a family owning a transport business. However, Das developed a liking for politics. In 1983, he lost the student union election for the post of general secretary in Gangadhar Meher College, Sambalpur (now university). It did not dissuade him and he did not back out. For the next decade, the former Minister had controlled student politics in Sambalpur district by propping up candidates and financing them in student union elections.

His organisational skill had drawn attention of former Odisha CM late Janaki Ballav Patnaik. With the blessing of Patnaik, he started wielding enormous power even when there were established Congress leaders in western Odisha.

“From student days, he was known for his organisational manoeuvring. As his career progressed, he harnessed the skill further and made a name for himself,” said Priya Ranjan Sahu, a senior journalist and contemporary of Das in GM College.

Though he was a full-time politician, he never neglected the transport business. Das entered coal transportation in coal-rich Belpahar, Brajarajnagar and Jharsuguda area and took his family business to new heights. At the time of his demise, he was one of the richest politicians in the State, possessing a fleet of high-value vehicles.

In 2004, he first fought as a Congress candidate from Jharsuguda Assembly seat against former Speaker late Kishore Mohanty. Das lost the election. He came back strongly to win the seat in 2009 and 2014 elections. Even while influence of Congress was diminishing across the State, Jharsuguda was an oasis for the Grand Old Party, and Das was the reason. He was made Working President of Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee. However, just before 2019 election, he severed his three-decade-long association with Congress and joined BJD and won Jharsuguda Assembly seat again.

Key political strategist for BJD in BJP stronghold 

Upon his victory from Jharsuguda, he was made a Cabinet Minister with a plumb portfolio (Health and Family Welfare). It was a rare occasion when a newcomer in party was given such an important Ministerial berth. He did not disappoint the BJD leadership.

Apart from his skilful handling of Health Department, Das played a key role in victory of BJD in rural and urban body elections in western Odisha districts, particularly in Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Sundargarh, Bargarh and Deogarh in 2022. Besides, he had displayed his political acumen in BJD’s victory in three byelections – Bijepur, Brajarajnagar and Padampur constituencies. Incidentally, Western Odisha is widely perceived as a stronghold of BJP.

Das was resourceful as well as good at fundraising for the party. The Odisha unit of Congress felt his absence after he quit the party, so would BJD after his death. In recently concluded Padampur byelection where stakes were high for BJD and BJP, he along with Susanta Singh, Bhatli MLA, had camped there and ensured the party won the election. Political commentators are of the view that the death of Das is a big loss to BJD ahead of 2024 election.



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