Odisha Sun Times Political Bureau
Bhubaneswar, May 21:
Having won every single election since the stupendous victory in the Assembly elections a year ago, Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik has shown that he has no peers when it comes to winning elections.
With his fourth successive win, which also turned out to be the biggest ever, Naveen has gone up several notches up in political stature, ruling the party and running the government with an iron hand.
But even as he has kept rising in political authority, the ruling party boss has come down several notches down when it comes to moral authority in the one year since he was sworn in by Governor SC Jamir.
The loss of moral authority has everything to do with the series of scams involving his government and his party that have tumbled out of the woodwork in the last one year.
A party MP and a senior MLA have been arrested while several other party leaders have been questioned in connection with the mega chit fund scam in the state. But nothing dented the Chief Minister’s squeaky clean image more than the two-hour-long interrogation of his close confidante Saroj Sahu, who apparently managed all his appointments at Naveen Nivas, by the CBI for his alleged links with the Seashore group CMD Prashant Dash.
In the case of the MP and MLAs, Naveen could hope to get away with his hands-off approach though there were very few takers for his claim that their association with the chit fund companies were their ‘individual matter’ and had nothing to do with the party. This luxury, however, was not available in the case of Saroj since anybody who has ever been to Naveen Nivas knew that he was virtually Naveen’s shadow while he was at his residence.
The BJD supremo may have managed to wriggle out of the chit fund quagmire with some deft political deal-making. But he had clearly not reckoned for the land scam that exploded on his face next. The Task Force headed by Taradatt ripped the veil off what has been the worst-kept secret in the government: ruling party politicians, their favoured bureaucrats and other people with clout in the BJD had wrested prime land and houses in the Twin City of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack after throwing all rules and norms out of the window.
The loss of moral authority was evident in the perennial Centre-basher suddenly becoming extremely squeamish about criticising the Union government despite some grave provocation. The Chief Minister, who had been at his vociferous best waging a relentless anti-Centre campaign in his last three terms, seems to have developed a sore throat in this term.
This when there has been a statewide uproar against the injustice meted out to the state by the 14th Finance Commission. The state government has strangely gone into silent mode even as the Centre kept stopping financial assistance for one ongoing scheme after another in the state.
The ruling BJD did not even hesitate to support the BJP led government at the Centre in the passing of the bills in the parliament which go against the interest of the state.
Observers are convinced this was the inevitable price he had to pay to get the CBI off his back in the chit fund and coal scams. But while the deal may have brought some respite to the beleaguered Chief Minister, the loss of his moral authority – and with it his bargaining strength – is obviously going to cost Odisha dear.