04 Feb 2019



As rivals weave conspiracy theories around him and throw outlandish accusations at his administration, Naveen Patnaik hits back with hard facts and outstanding results


Siddhartha Tripathy



The build-up to the upcoming big elections has begun on an amusing note this year in Odisha. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress are desperately vying for the lion’s share of a political pie that has for long been the preserve of Biju Janata Dal, thanks in no small measure to its chief and ever-popular Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.


There are Machiavellian conspiracy theories galore with leaders of the sole two national parties of the country hurling all sorts of bizarre accusations not only at regional powerhouse BJD, but also at each other, hoping that something sticks to their respective electoral benefits.


Congress president Rahul Gandhi came up with arguably the most interesting one on the eve of Republic Day while addressing a public gathering during his party’s Parivartan Sankalp Samavesh rally at Tamando ground on the outskirts of the state capital of Bhubaneswar.


 “Because of the involvement of your Chief Minister and other ministers in the chit fund scam, the remote control of Odisha is in the hands of a corrupt chowkidar. Sitting down and getting up at the press of a button, Naveen Patnaik is compelled to support the bad policies of the chowkidar,” Rahul thundered with his usual raspiness, in a clear reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


He was trying agonisingly hard to convince his audience that the government of their state was actually “being run from Nagpur and New Delhi”. That Naveen was only a minor partner of Modi in the overall scheme of things who followed the same “Gujarat model” of politics in which chief ministers were hand in glove with a select few industrialists for mutual benefits and handpicked bureaucrats were left to run governments.


Rahul’s resentment was palpable and his frustrations understandable considering the exodus of some important state Congress leaders in the days leading up to his Odisha visit.


On January 16, Odisha Congress Working President and Jharsuguda MLA Naba Kishore Das resigned from his post and announced his decision to join the BJD. Over the next few days former Union minister Srikant Jena, Sundergarh MLA Jogesh Singh and Koraput MLA Krushna Chandra Sagaria were expelled from the Congress for alleged anti-party activities. And then on January 22, prominent Bargarh leader Pranay Sahu also tendered his resignation to Congress state president Niranjan Patnaik, citing infighting and uninspiring leadership as his reasons.


Unfortunately, the morale-boosting victories of the Congress in Rajasthan, and neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh did little to turn things around for the party’s Odisha chapter that has been beset with debilitatingly factional rivalries.


Yet, expecting to reap dividends from the same formula that seemed to work wonders for his party in the Hindi heartland, Gandhi promised the farmers of Odisha to waive agricultural loans and raise the minimum support price on paddy if his party was voted to power in the state this year. In a bid to win over two other electorally important sections of India, Gandhi also promised to offer more employment opportunities to the youth and fill up the tens of thousands of vacant government jobs in the state.


Thus painting Naveen and Modi in the same brush, Rahul urged his party workers to work unitedly to defeat the two in Odisha and the Centre, respectively.


Ironically, however, the counter-theory to Gandhi’s was already made a few days earlier by a hitherto long-time fellow Congressman.


After his unceremonious exit from the grand old party, Srikant Jena accused Rahul of being in an unholy nexus with Naveen and Niranjan Patnaik to protect the mining mafia. Suggesting that the mining mafia controls the Congress unit of Odisha, Jena said: "Rahul Gandhi has ensured this way that the governance of Odisha will remain under the Patnaik families.”


Sagaria also alluded to something of a supposed secret deal between Congress and BJD. Fervently denying that he was involved in anti-party activities, the cited reason for his expulsion from Congress, the Koraput legislator claimed that he fell out with the state Congress leadership for demanding the removal of Narasingha Mishra from the post of Leader of Opposition on grounds of his “direct links with third floor (Chief Minister's Office)”.


“Mishra wants his son to join the BJD,” he pointed out.


Interestingly enough, a few weeks earlier, Niranjan Patnaik himself accused the BJP and BJD of being hand in glove at the expense of the state’s interests.


Speaking on Christmas, a day after Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Odisha, the state Congress chief said both Naveen and Modi have been taking the people of Odisha for a ride in the name of Lord Jagannath and “the suspicion about a secret alliance between the BJD and BJP has been proven true”.


This theory, which caught on within Congress for a few days, seemed to be solely based on the observation that Prime Minister Modi slammed the BJD government on several issues but refrained from directly blaming Naveen and his party for the alleged scams and misgovernance in the state.


But in reality, many political observers reckoned, perhaps Modi himself was smart enough to realise and remember from experience that making personal remarks against popular political leaders not only reflected poorly on himself and his party but also backfired in elections. Besides, by not responding in kind to personal attacks from Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in the past, the ever-classy Chief Minister came across as the bigger man.


Yet, actively executing the BJP’s so-called Look East strategy, in which Odisha is placed right at the centre, Prime Minister Modi visited the state as many as three times over the past two months. In all the public meetings that he addressed during this period, whether it be in Khurda on December 24, or Baripada on January 5 or Bolangir on January 15, Modi aggressively sought to hammer home a couple of notions.


One, that Odisha is falling victim to rising corruption. Citing the chit fund scam and the so-called “percentage commission” culture (referring to corruption in government institutions at all levels) during his public rally at NISER stadium in Khurda, Modi asked: “How has the demon of corruption become so powerful in Odisha? Who is feeding it?”


Two, that the BJD government on its own is not doing enough to tackle the challenges of agriculture, employment, health, water and sanitation facing the people of the state.


And three, that the BJP government at the Centre is deeply committed to development in Odisha but is hampered by the politically motivated non-cooperation of the Naveen Patnaik government.


An example of that was seen in Bolangir last month, where PM Modi pointed out that although Odisha received more than Rs 4,000 crore thanks to the Centre’s decision to set up the District Mineral Fund, the state government did not spend it for tribal welfare.


Even Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the most prominent BJP leader from Odisha, has been accusing Naveen of deliberately putting obstacles in the implementation of many Centre-initiated development projects. Most recently Pradhan claimed that 400-plus-km long proposed Digha-Gopalpur coastal highway, one of the largest infrastructure projects ever to be undertaken in the state that could transform its development story, was hanging fire due to the “delaying tactics” of the Odisha government in providing the necessary clearances pertaining to forest and coastal areas.


However, all this while Naveen had clearly seemed unbothered by such theories, notions and accusations against him and his party; instead he was simply letting his work do all the talking as usual.


On December 21 last year, the Odisha cabinet approved Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA), a comprehensive welfare scheme developed to not only help farmers in their agricultural activities but also make their lives more secure. With allotment of Rs10,000 crore over a period of three years, KALIA would cover all the 30,00,000-plus small and marginal farmers of the state, 92% of the state’s cultivators, and 10,00,000 landless households. Under the scheme, both cultivators and landless agricultural labourers were also to be provided life insurance and personal accident covers of Rs 2 lakh each. Among other things, the scheme also allowed farmers to take interest-free loans of up to Rs 50,000.


Within a little over a month since then, the scheme has taken off big time with over 65 lakh farmers having already applied for inclusion into it. On the eve of the nation’s 70th Republic Day, the Chief Minister rolled out the first phase of the implementation of KALIA by sending off Rs 5,000 each to 12.45 lakh beneficiaries via Direct Benefit Transfer.


Addressing a thousands-strong crowd at a Republic Day function in Cuttack, Naveen was visibly glad to announce that KALIA was being appreciated in the agricultural community across the nation. He also expressed optimism that the scheme could become a model for the rest of the country and usher in a revolution in the farming sector.


Four days earlier, Naveen had similarly impressive results to show with “Ama Gaon Ama Bikash”, the BJD government’s flagship programme. Within barely 10 months after its launch, aimed at helping people in rural areas get involved in developmental activities, the scheme managed to cover all the gram panchayats (GPs) of each of the 314 blocks of the state. During this period, the Chief Minister sanctioned over Rs 1,500 crore for over 62,000 projects in 6,798 GPs.


"This programme is a fine example of our principle of the 3Ts - Technology, Teamwork and Transparency," said the Chief Minister while speaking to the media in the state capital.


Over the past month, the Naveen Patnaik administration has delivered the goods for the people of Odisha on many other fronts. On January 19, the social security pension for 48 lakh beneficiaries, including senior citizens, destitute women, the physically challenged, among others, was hiked under the Madhubabu Pension Yojana. A week earlier the same was done to the monthly remuneration of some 72,500 Anganwadi workers and helpers.


A day before that Naveen launched a new scheme called “Ama Ghare LED” through which some 95 lakh beneficiaries would receive four LED bulbs per person free of cost under National Food Security Act and State Food Security Scheme.


On the health front, too, there were big positive developments. His government announced on January 17 that universal free healthcare services under Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana had been extended to all government medical colleges and hospitals with effect from the beginning of February.


The list goes on and on.


And yet, with the elections drawing ever nearer and to ensure that the BJP’s efforts to show his administration in a poor light find no takers, Naveen – never one to get complacent or take his success for granted – also decided to do some talking himself to give the BJP a taste of its own medicine.


While addressing a big gathering in Jharsuguda at the Amalipalli ground, the same place where Prime Minister Modi had held a public meeting in September last year, Naveen declared that Odisha will no longer tolerate being neglected by the Centre.


Pointing out that the new airport in Jharsuguda, which was inaugurated during Prime Minister Modi’s visit last year, had yet to be operational, Naveen also revealed that the Centre was doing nothing about it despite assurances from him that Odisha government itself would provide funds for flight operation there.


He also accused the BJP government of its apathy in not giving justice to Odisha in Mahanadi river water conflict with neighbouring Chhattisgarh, which compelled his state to take the matter to the court.


That Naveen was throwing down the gauntlet to the BJP was confirmed when highly placed sources within the BJD revealed that the chief minister had decided to hold public meetings at all places in the state where PM Modi had visited over the past few months.


Most political pundits agree that Naveen could that way easily dispel any notion that Modi might have managed to build anywhere during his visits to Odisha.


It is no secret that Naveen has been repeatedly writing to the Prime Minister seeking Special Category Status for Odisha on grounds of its high vulnerability to recurring natural disasters – but to no avail. Despite the state being able to show a higher growth rate than the nation’s, and despite the country benefiting immensely from Odisha’s significant natural resources.


Naveen has also put the spotlight on a handful of important railway infrastructural projects, whether it be relating to the long-pending realignment of the Balasore-Digha railway line or the reintroduction of Shatabdi Exspress, which have been stalled thanks to the lack of cooperation from the Centre.


The BJP has been increasingly fighting a reputation of not fulfilling its electoral promises, of “not walking the talk”, which reflected in its Hindi heartland results. But Naveen has always been one of those leaders who work more and talk less. Not surprisingly, therefore, when the four-time Chief Minister presents his side of the story, he sounds far more convincing than his political rivals. And when he hurls accusations at them, they ring truer and stick harder.


Besides, far more leaders from the BJP and Congress are defecting to the BJD than the other way around. Perhaps it is high time for the opposition to engage more in introspection and organisation and indulge less in mindless accusations if they do not wish to find themselves on the losing side even before the big battle actually begins.

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