Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar/ Puri, Jul 16:
From the moment he arrived at the Biju Patnaik airport here in the company of Union Railways minister Suresh Prabhu, the heat of the ‘Vyapam’ scam followed Union minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas (PNG) Dharmendra Pradhan everywhere he went.
First it was a barrage of questions by the media at the airport which Pradhan handled with his customary elan.
“At the time when I am said to have taken favours from Sudhir Sharma, I was an office bearer of the party and all my travel bookings were done by the party. So, there is no question of taking any favours from anyone,” he said.
Asked about the Congress demand for his resignation, the Union minister said, rather condescendingly; “It is obvious that they are yet to recover from the rout they suffered in the 2014 elections. Let them make allegations. I welcome it.”
If it was the media here, it was BJD workers who trained their guns on the Union minister during the inauguration of the new building of Malatipatapur railway station by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
Workers of the ruling party waved placards in their hands with ‘Dharmendra Pradhan Go Back’ written on it and raised slogans against him.
Pradhan, however, had help at hand in the form of a sizeable number of BJP workers present at the venue, who tried to outshout the BJD men. At one of time, the two sides nearly came to blows.
In a belated fire-fighting exercise, the ruling party, however, sought to make light of the incident and flatly denied the involvement of BJD workers in the battle of attrition.
“The BJD workers were cheering our leaders and the BJP members were cheering theirs. There was no such protest at Malatipatapur,” BJD spokesperson Sameer Das claimed.
Asked about the placards, Das said, “They could be the public protesting against Pradhan.”
Back in Bhubaneswar, members of Odisha Vikash Manch today burnt effigy and posters of Dharmendra Pradhan at Master Canteen square in the state capital demanding his ouster.
Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPC) president Prasad Harichandan today demanded Pradhan’s resignation saying: “The Centre is also equally responsible for the scam. The Union minister must step down immediately and cooperate in the investigation.”
Reports of burning of Pradhan’e effigy have also come from Parjanga in Dhenkanal, the Union’s minister’s backyard, where both the BJD and the Congress took to the streets demanding his resignation
National television channel—NDTV—yesterday had reported, quoting an income tax report from 2013, that mining baron Sudhir Sharma, currently in jail in connection with the Vyapam scam, made ‘huge payments in cash for air tickets, travel bills etc’ of a group of BJP leaders, including Pradhan.
The alleged link of Pradhan with the Vyapam scam accused is fast snowballing into a major controversy in the state with opposition parties demanding the former’s resignation.