AHEAD OF THE GAME
As rivals rack their brains to topple him, BJD boss Naveen Patnaik seems already all set for a record fifth term as chief minister of Odisha
From all appearances chief minister Naveen Patnaik seems set to win another five-year term in office. This is evident from the tremendous response being generated by the raft of welfare schemes that his government has launched during the past few years.
The most successful of these have been KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) and PEETHA (People’s Empowerment Enabling Transparency and Accountability) schemes. They have been named with care as their acronyms reflect the state’s culture. The overwhelming response to KALIA at the recent farmers’ convention in Puri left the opposition rattled.
The scheme with a total outlay of Rs. 10,180 crore is aimed at accelerating agricultural prosperity and eliminating poverty among farmers including share-croppers. With a part of the financial benefit already having been transferred to the farmers, KALIA seems to be growing in popularity. Ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders said that while Congress and BJP believed only in giving assurances, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik is actually delivering on his promises. “In this election he will again seek votes on the performance plank and win with ease,” said a BJD leader.
The two major opposition parties – BJP and Congress – on the other hand are resorting to new gimmicks to win the favour of the people. They have been offering written promises to people, a trend that began with Congress president Rahul Gandhi distributing symbolic guarantee cards to a few people at his Rourkela rally recently.
The guarantee cards have different promises for women, farmers and the youth. While they guarantee women financial assistance for higher education and marriage of daughters, assured water connection and a woman officer in each panchayat to deal with cases of violence against the fairer sex, they promise farmers loan waivers, Rs. 2,600 as the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy and financial assistance continuously for five years. Similarly young men from a poor background are being assured minimum income guarantee and jobs to one member of every needy family.
The Congress thinks that the guarantee cards would be a game changer. Senior Congress leaders assert that unlike other parties Congress believes in honouring its words, implying that the party was committed to fulfilling the promises made in the guarantee cards.
The BJP soon came up with its own version of guarantees, launching a “Pratishruti Patra” or a charter of promises guaranteeing pucca houses, homestead land for poor and jobs for the unemployed if voted to power. These ‘patras’ have two parts, one to be filled in by individuals and the other in which the party gives an assurance to honour the promises.
The BJP has plans to reach out to 50,000 villages with such “pratishruti patras” before the elections. A senior party MLA, said that BJP was sincere about the promises it was making. “Let us not talk about this campaign only. Even otherwise we believe in keeping the promises we make. We are not like other parties which conveniently forget the promises made after elections,” he said.
What is, however, significant is that while the Congress and the BJP are pinning great hopes on this tactic they do not have the required strength to trump the BJD in Odisha. The Congress base has been shrinking alarmingly and the party is now left with just 14 MLAs. On the other hand, the BJP is fighting hard to retain its votebank in western Odisha, the region from where eight of its ten MLAs come.
If sources are to be believed discontent against the party is growing in this region as the party has moved away from the issues which had made it a force to reckon with in western Odisha. Even after the BJP pulled out of the coalition government with the BJD the party has not made sincere efforts to build up popular movements on the abysmal poverty and backwardness of the area which is regularly visited by droughts and where migration of labour is an annual feature.
“This was a crucial period when the two parties were ruling the state in coalition. But the BJP kept mum on these issues as it would have rocked the coalition boat. However, even after pulling out of the coalition, the party made no attempt to rectify its mistakes which would have helped it win popular support in western Odisha,” said an analyst.
With opposition still in disarray, the BJD enjoys an obvious advantage in the coming polls. What is significant is that chief minister Naveen Patnaik is not being complacent and planning his moves carefully. If sources are to be believed he is likely to deny tickets to a number of MLAs whose performance has been below par. “He is keen to keep the party’s image intact. He is someone who can read the people’s pulse,” said a party leader.
The party is also confident that the welfare measures such as old age pension and Aahar schemes launched by the government would yield rich dividends and the party would have no problem in winning the coming electoral battle. “He has done so much for the state and its people. The voters know that he is a sincere leader and they will root for him again,” concluded a BJD leader.