By Bibhuti Pati
One year after creating history with his fourth consecutive win, Naveen Patnaik and his BJD are like a leviathan on the political spectrum of Odisha. The British had described Lord Jagannath’s Chariot as a “Juggernaut” to describe a mammoth force that mowed down anything on its path. After the emphatic win in the recent local bodies elections, the BJD juggernaut has crushed all opposition in the state under its wheels.
The Congress and the BJP have both been on a downslide in the state in the last decade. Time and again, Naveen Patnaik has demonstrated his political invincibility, be it the General elections or Panchayat, Civic body or Co-operatives polls. With both the mainstream parties in the doldrums, there is no alternate political force in the State that can take on Naveen and his BJD.
During the last elections, Odisha was perhaps the only state where the Modi magic failed to work. While the whole nation went one way, Odisha went the other way. In the run up to the polls, many leaders from other parties jumped ship and hitched themselves to the BJP bandwagon banking on the Modi factor to work in their favour. But unlike the BJD, the BJP failed to project a ‘real leader.’ Odias were confused about who heads the State unit of BJP, forget accepting a leader. In such a situation, Naveen’s BJD, warts and all, appeared more acceptable than the other two major contenders.
The concerted, high-voltage campaign by the BJP yielded a measly one parliamentary and just ten assembly seats. In spite of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rewarded the state with two ministerial berths. Jual Oram was appointed a cabinet minister while the youthful Dharmendra Pradhan, who has been elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar, was appointed a minister of state with independent charge of an important department like Petroleum and Natural Gas. Recently, tribal leader and former minister Draupadi Murmu was appointed as the Jharkhand Governor. Bureaucrats belonging to Odisha cadre were posted in several key posts, including in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). All this suggested that Odisha figured high on the list of BJP’s priorities.
Since the beginning of the NDA rule, Odisha has been accorded special favours: at least that is what the BJP claims. They have constantly harped on the claim that the state government stands to get about Rs 2 lakh crore over the next five years on account of the decision to give the entire proceeds from auction of mines to state governments and implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendation for 42% share of central taxes to the states instead of the earlier 32%. The ‘PRASAD’ scheme for rejuvenation of the holy town of Puri and the scheme providing subsidised LPG to BPL families was launched from Odisha. Major petroleum related projects were announced for the state.
All these goodies were expected to shore up the BJP’s stock. But that is not quite the way things have panned out. Party leaders are finding it hard to explain some decisions of the NDA government that are easy to interpret as a raw deal to Odisha. Several schemes launched during the UPA government like BRGF, special assistance to KBK region, police modernisation and grants for construction of model schools at the block level have been summarily done away with.
The Central government has made it clear that it’s not going to fork out a penny as assistance under eight schemes, which are not performing. In 33 programmes, the Centre has reduced its share while increasing the share of the state. There is total confusion over the location of the proposed IIM in Odisha. Furthermore, the Union Labour and Employment Minister rejected the proposal sanctioned by the UPA government for establishment of a medical college by the ESIC at Bhubaneswar at an estimated cost of Rs 800 crore. The bifurcation of East Coast Railway, shifting of HAL from Koraput to Bengaluru, downsizing of PPL corporate office and – most important of all – the Centre’s indifference to the Posco project has made the people of the state unhappy. Last but not the least, the people of the state are unhappy over the Centre’s niggardly assistance for Lord Jagganath’s Nabakalebar festival.
The state government has done its bit to puncture the NDA claim of showering bounties on Odisha with its own estimate of a loss of Rs 2148.83 crore by way of cuts imposed by the Central government.
A year after Modi came to power, the BJP in Odisha is in no better position than it was at the time of the last elections. In fact, it would not be wrong to say it is presently going through a crisis of existence. A series of defeats, frustration and disenchantment among the party rank and file and dearth of a leader with pan-Odisha acceptance have eroded the strength of the party.
On its part, post the elections, the BJP did try to put the BJD in the dock by going hammer and tongs at the BJD government on the chit fund scam. The CBI had come knocking at the doors of Naveen Niwas, the CM’s residence. The State BJP workers were excited over the Centre’s action and fired volley after volley on Naveen, his party and his government. Their attacking stance had clearly unnerved Naveen and his party considerably.
And then, the BJP mysteriously ran out of steam.
At the height of the scam probe, the BJP had launched the Mahasangram rally against the state government in January this year. The party’s national president Amit Shah had come calling and was expected to launch the campaign that was billed as the ‘beginning of the end of the Naveen Patnaik government’. But to the dismay of party cadres and the public alike, Shah refused to utter a word against Naveen and the BJD government at the public meeting at Bhubaneswar, demoralising the state leaders and party cadres in the process. In a party workers’ meet later in the day, he scolded the party leaders and workers for passing the buck. He blamed the state unit for their organisational failure.
Taking a cue from Shah, other BJP leaders too have gone soft on the state government. The CBI probe too has slackened and fresh arrests have been stalled. A CBI source has confirmed that there were go slow orders ‘from the top’.
Thanks to the two Central Ministers, Odisha has seen the visits of nearly two dozen Central Ministers in the last one year though the purpose of their visit has varied. Some came to visit the Jagannath temple while others arrived to launch of various schemes or to attend seminars, literary festivals, inaugurations of projects etc. In recent history, Odisha had never seen the influx of so many central Ministers. On his part, Naveen too has been frequently dashing off the New Delhi and holding talks with the PM, Central Ministers and officials. His proximity to the BJP patriarch Advani and points man Jaitley is well-known.
The BJP is in constant touch with senior BJD parliamentarians like Jay Panda and Pinaki Mishra. The two MPs were once known for their proximity to Naveen Patnaik but are said to have fallen out of his favour in the recent past. It is no secret in Delhi that the two have close links with the BJP. In fact, Modi has sent Panda to the USA and Japan before and after his visits to the two nations.
The BJP rank and file was perplexed with the sudden bonhomie between State leaders like Dharmendra Pradhan and other central leaders and Naveen Patnaik. During a public meeting at Rourkela, Narendra Modi called the Odisha Chief Minister a ‘friend’ and thanked him for extending support to his government in the Parliament. At a progarmme in Bhubanesear, Sushma Swaraj called him “brother”.
The state party workers are confused and let down by this new equation. More than half the members of the state executive were absent at the recently concluded meeting while those who were present spoke against the party’s stand. The recent membership drive too came under a lot of flak, as party men said that half the memberships that had been made were fake.
The Congress has been vociferous in alleging that a “secret deal” had been struck between Patnaik and Modi to save the BJD leaders in Odisha from the chit fund scam, the coal scam and the mining scams. Congress leader Narsingh Mishra accused the BJD of maintaining a “mysterious silence” after Central assistance was withdrwan from many vital welfare schemes.
State President K V Singh Deo says talk of BJD and BJP coming together is baseless. He claims the BJD is still the Enemy No. 1 for the BJP in Odisha. But Singhdeo is a lone ranger and does not have the support of his other leaders. The central leaders, when cornered by the media, make evasive replies and talk of the holy grail of co-operative federalism under the new NDA era of Centre-State relationships to explain their new found love for BJD and Naveen.
Nothing has changed in the Odisha BJP one year down the line. Lack of intra-party activities, a weak organisational structure, inability to understand issues and an assertiveness to raise them, absence of fresh faces are the reasons for the abysmal state of the party in the state. The party’s very existence is in serious peril. Are Messrs Modi and Shah listening?
* Bibhuti Pati is a senior Delhi based investigative journalist.