THE RIGHT KIND OF LEADER
With some precisely timed moves, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has left nitpicking political rivals scraping the bottom of the barrel
One of the defining qualities of great leaders is their uncanny ability to do the right thing at the right time – a virtue that has often been found to be in short supply not just in India, but far too many countries across the world.
Even the best of them, especially those in the world of politics, are under constant scrutiny and often judged by their last worst decisions.
That has never seemed to be a problem for four-time chief minister Naveen Patnaik, though, who has ruled Odisha uninterruptedly for nearly two decades.
In every assembly election since the start of the millennium, the people of the state have reaffirmed their faith in Naveen and expressed their satisfaction with his administration.
Yet the opposition parties, as is their wont, have been relentless in finding flaws in the Biju Janata Dal government, looking for that proverbial chink in its armour, the weakest link as it were, to arouse sentiments of anti-incumbency – a phenomenon that seems to be well at play in almost every part of the country except Odisha.
While addressing a Bharatiya Janata Party workers’ meeting in Bhadrak during his visit to the state on February 17, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a serious allegation against the BJD boss. Despite having a “stable government" for a long time, Singh claimed, Odisha had not developed under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
"I fail to understand why no development has taken place during these years," he said at the event in the presence of Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and other senior state BJP leaders.
Claiming that the GDP of BJP-ruled states is higher than Odisha, Singh said he wanted to ask the Chief Minister why Odisha was still “backward in comparison to other states in the country".
The veteran BJP leader also pointed out that farmers in the state were not getting the right price of their agricultural produce. If and when the BJP came to power, the Home Minister sought to assure the farmers, they would get 1.5 times their input price during crop procurement.
Three days later, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath arrived in Odisha to unleash a barrage of blames at the Naveen Patnaik government.
Noting that the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat Scheme was not being implemented in Odisha, the BJP’s Hindutva firebrand accused Naveen of being unconcerned about the health and welfare of the poor. Adityanath also slammed the Odisha government for shortchanging the farming community by not cooperating with the Centre in the implementation of the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi.
Earlier, while addressing his party’s booth-level workers at Bhawanipatna in western Odisha, a region where the BJP’s popularity is supposedly higher than the rest of the state, he assured locals of accelerated economic growth if the party came to power in Odisha.
"BJP government in the state, as well as Modi government at Centre, will ensure double engine growth," Adityanath promised.
Stating that the BJD government was mired in corruption instead of being focused on development, Adityanath went on to claim – without anything to substantiate it – that the Odisha government's KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) scheme was unstable and riddled with corruption even before being launched.
On the other hand, he asserted, the Central scheme would provide small and marginal farmers with Rs 6,000 per annum in cash assistance.
Rattling off a few figures to support his wild claims, the strongman from Gorakhpur said the Odisha government had built only 17 lakh pucca houses for the poor in 19 years of BJD rule, while his own two-year-old government had constructed 20 lakh houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
Not to mention, he also notably stated that the Odisha government was being disrespectful of its own homegrown freedom fighters by not allowing land for a Centre-proposed Paika Rebellion Memorial at Barunei.
All this coming from a man whose government is already facing serious levels of anti-incumbency sentiments halfway into its tenure.
A recent poll published by India Today newsmagazine showed that popularity of Adityanath as well as his government had nose-dived in recent months, in no small part to his government’s unsatisfactory performance and the rising perception that he was dividing the state along communal lines.
Speaking of statistics, Uttar Pradesh continues to be one of the most corrupt and crime-ridden states of the country. Multiple reports released last year showed that the state had topped the national list in the following categories: number of murder cases, number of crimes against women, number of communal incidents and number of fake encounters, just to name a few.
Besides, it also saw the highest number of cow-related violence among all other states across the nation last year. The latest – and most shocking – was the Bulandshahr incident where protest against illegal slaughter of cows led to the death of two people, including a police officer. The earliest cow-related incident from UP that year involved a meat seller in Bareilly who died in AIIMS after being reportedly thrashed by the UP police.
Yet Adityanath has continued to brush such incidents aside as accidents, denying the phenomenon of cow vigilantism in his state, let alone taking strong steps to prevent its recurrence.
He has busied himself instead with the cause of Ram temple and Ram statue in Ayodhya.
These things stand in sharp contrast to Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha, which generally ranks among the states least hit by communal troubles and has yet to see a single incidence of cow vigilante violence.
What’s more, Bhubaneswar was ranked an impressive 13th in the list of 20 safest cities of the world as per Global Smart City Performance Index released last year by UK-based international analyst firm Juniper Research. The state capital was the only city of India to feature in the top-20 list, which was topped by Singapore. Ranked a respectable 20th in such other categories of the index as mobility (transport faciulities), health (including public access to medical services and performance of healthcare institutions) and productivity (policies and services to promote people’s productivity, democratisation of services and wealth distribution), Bhubaneswar ranked an overall 19th in the list.
Not long before that, Bhubaneswar earned the distinction of becoming the first Indian city to win the prestigious Pierre L'enfant International Planning excellence award, which is handed out by the American Planning Association for good town planning and engaging residents in the process.
A year earlier, the Temple City of Odisha had bagged the second runners-up spot at the World Smart City Awards in Barcelona, Spain. It had entered the event after becoming the first Indian city to be selected as one of the finalists for the prestigious competition.
In fact, even in the latest edition of the smart city competition at the national level, which was held in Jaipur last year, it was the capital of Odisha that emerged as the clear winner.
By hosting and sponsoring international sporting events over the past few years, the most recent and significant being the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Hockey World Cup a couple of months ago, the Naveen Patnaik government has not only made Bhubaneswar the sporting hub of India, but also put Odisha firmly on the global map.
At a time when Hindutva nationalism was masquerading as patriotism, Naveen showed the rest of the country how sports could become a key tool of nation-building.
Apart from the record of his state and the recognition its capital has globally received on various accounts, Naveen himself won the coveted Outlook Speakout Award as the best administrator of the country as recently as two years ago. His reputation as one of the best ever chief ministers of the country far precedes him.
However, the BJD supremo has never once seemed to have become complacent or taken his enduring political success for granted. With elections round the corner, he continues to take steps that further add to his already stellar record as Chief Minister of Odisha.
Here is how.
Although, Odisha was the first state in the country to pass the anti-corruption Lokayukta Bill in the state assembly, it has yet to implement it on ground, which had been pointed out by his critics, especially nitpicking political rivals, as a failure of his administration.
But they cannot do that for much longer.
Last month, on February 11, the Odisha government submitted before the Supreme Court that the process of appointing the Lokayukta will be functional from April 8 onwards this year. The very next day a selection committee headed by Naveen unanimously selected the Lokayukta chairperson whose name was to be officially announced after approval by the Governor of Odisha.
A week later, Naveen was seen launching a dozen and a half industrial projects, which will involve investment worth almost Rs 2,200 crore and generate almost 3,500 jobs.
On the occasion, the Chief Minister said: "Odisha's vision is to become the manufacturing hub of the East. Through Vision 2025 for industrial development, we had devised an action plan to bring more manufacturing investments across the state to provide higher employment opportunities to our people."
Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi revealed that the state has also launched 'Industry Care', a dedicated process to provide aftercare services to the industrial projects being set up in the state.
Two days later, Naveen delivered yet another masterstroke. The BJD government announced on that it will cooperate with the Central government in implementing the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme from February 24 onwards for the sake of providing extra benefits to the farmers.
Extra benefits, because farmers of Odisha have already been benefiting much under the KALIA scheme.
The PM-KISAN scheme’s implementation would entail provision of Rs 6,000 annually to small and marginal farmers having cultivable land up to two hectares in Odisha.
On the same day, Naveen transferred Rs 700 crore to the bank accounts of over 14 lakh beneficiaries under the KALIA scheme, which has so far provided much-needed relief to about 30 lakh small farmers, sharecroppers, landless farmers and farm labourers in the state.
Soon after he did that, Naveen reiterated his demand for the inclusion of small farmers, landless farmers and sharecroppers in the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme – thus putting the ball firmly back in the Centre’s court.
With all these recently taken steps, the BJD boss has left very little ammo for even the harshest of his critics to use against him without themselves coming across as unreasonable and spiteful.
As opposition forces scrape the bottom of the barrel to find something substantial on him or his government, Naveen stands tall and fearless as one of the greatest political leaders not just of Odisha, but also of India.