Bhubaneswar: In a major embarrassment to Bharatiya Janata Party, one of its party legislators was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment by a fast track court for murder and other criminal activities committed during the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2008.
G Udayagiri MLA Manoj Pradhan (30), along with his accomplice, Prafulla Mallick, was convicted of a murdering Parikhit Digal, a Christian resident of Barepanga village under the Raikia police station on 27 August 2008.
Pradhan, a first-time MLA, was sentenced under Section 326 (making severe injury to a person that caused his death) and Section 148 (unlawful assembly). Fast track court-I judge Sovan Das also fined Pradhan and Mallick Rs 5,000 each.
Sectarian clashes had erupted in Kandhamal shortly after the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati at his Jalespeta ashram on 23 August 2008. Around 40 people were killed and many houses damaged in the violence that followed.
As a preventive measure, security was tightened in Phulbani and G Udyagiri towns in Kandhamal district after the judgment was pronounced.Reacting to the verdict, Manoj Pradhan said he would appeal against the verdict. “I will challenge the verdict in a higher court,” he said, before being taken to Phulbani jail. “The people of my constituency know what I am. I have full faith in the judiciary.”
Five riot-related cases, including three murders, are also pending against Pradhan. Earlier, he had been acquitted in five other cases. Despite his role in the riots, Pradhan was elected from the G Udayagiri constituency in the 2009 Assembly elections which he fought from behind bars. He defeated Congress candidate Ajayanti Pradhan by over 30,000 votes.