C O M M E N T
By Sandeep Sahu*
An innocent question put to me recently by a faithful reader of my occasional writings on Odisha politics got me thinking. “Why do you always write against Naveen Patnaik?” he asked rather innocuously during the mandatory telephonic conversation that follows every such article by me.
For the record, I answered him thus (though not necessarily in these exact words): “Because I genuinely believe his unfettered continuance as Chief Minister of Odisha is harmful to the long term interests of the state.”
But as I hung up, I began pondering, for the first time, long and hard over a question that I had never really asked myself while writing about the longest ‘serving’ Chief Minister of Odisha all these years.
Readers are free to come to their own conclusions. But I know I am not batting for any opposition party or leader when writing about Naveen. [In fact, I have an even poorer impression about the leading lights of the other parties.] It is not as if I have been personally or professionally aggrieved about any decision taken by Naveen Patnaik or his government either.
So, why do my writings always have an anti-Naveen bias (I will be the first person to admit they do)?
I came up with at least half a dozen answers, but none of them more important than Naveen Patnaik’s utter disdain for everything Odia: the people, the language, the culture .. you name it. The gross contempt manifests itself in myriad ways: in his stubborn refusal to learn Odia (I have always believed it is refusal and not inability), his contempt for the Odisha media (he hasn’t granted an interview to an Odia newspaper or an Odia channel or held a press conference in 14 years), his complete lack of respect for fellow politicians (including those from his own party).
It is as if he keeps taunting us; “I would treat you wretched Odias like dirt and you would still continue to vote for me.” [And we ‘swabimaani’ Odias keep cheering him every time he does so !!]
After his disdain for Odias, it is his claim of ‘honesty and transparency’ that gets my goat. I have absolutely no doubt that the government headed by Naveen would go down in history as the most corrupt in the state ever, though he has successfully hidden his misdeeds – at least till recently – with a combination of obfuscation, dollops of doles to the poor and adroit media management. But I can assure readers that he would spend, somewhat like his saviour the UPA II government, the rest of his current term fending off corruption charges.
The revelations thrown up during the ongoing CBI probe into the chit fund scam have already taken the sheen off his sparkling white visage, at least among the newspaper reading and television watching people (not to forget the lakhs of investors who lost the earnings of their lifetime in the scam).
And the probe has barely got past the AT group so far! One can rest assured by the time it comes to an end, the Naveen Patnaik government would have been shown for what it is: a thoroughly corrupt and venal government that has fooled around with the public and public money for years.
But if the CBI’s dubious (though unsuccessful) efforts to give him a clean chit in the suspicious allocation of the Talabaira II coal block to the Aditya Birla group managed Hindalco is anything to go by, nothing short of a Supreme Court monitored CBI probe would bring out the whole truth about the complicity of his party and government in the chit fund scam.
Bruised as he is with the revelations in the chit fund and coal scams, Naveen Patnaik’s ultimate nightmare these days must be the very real prospect of a Supreme Court ruling asking for a CBI inquiry in the mining scam, unquestionably the Mother of All Scams in the history of the state. The findings of the Justice MB Shah Commission have proved that there are even more compelling reasons for the apex court to order a CBI inquiry in the mining scam in the state than it had in the case of the chit fund scam. If a CBI probe is indeed ordered into it, his much tom-tommed image is sure to turn decisively from that of ‘Mr. Clean’ to one of ‘Mr Dirty’.
The third reason for my opposition to this imported leader is his politics of dole. His entire politics stands on this basic premise: keep the people poor so that they remain perennially beholden – and grateful, one may add – to you for the doles. The philosophy (if it can be called that) has served him wonderfully well so far in electoral terms. If the poor shirk productive work in the process, then so be it!
The fourth ground for my objection to the Naveen government is its manifest propensity to hand over the bountiful natural resources of the state, including its rich mineral wealth, on a platter to rapacious industrialists without any thought about the long term impact it would have on the people, the environment and even the economy. If Naveen had his way, he would have gifted whatever remains of Odisha’s natural resources to greedy businessmen from outside for unthinking exploitation. I believe every Odia owes it to the state to stop him in his tracks.
The fifth reason flows from the fourth: the Naveen government’s complete disregard for agriculture and the farmers’ community. Periodic events like the farmers’ convention held in Sambalpur recently cannot hide his government’s total neglect, apathy and worse for the farmers, who still constitute nearly 70% of the population despite all the brave talk of industrialisation.
The sixth reason for my consistent anti-Naveen stand is the mighty wall he has built around himself (which are taller than the walls of Naveen Niwas) to keep the ‘people’ in whose name he rules at arm’s length. He is easily the most inaccessible Chief Minister – for the common man that is – in the whole of the country.
The hundreds of people who have been doing the rounds of his grievance cell for years without ever getting to meet him would vouch for that. But if you are a top shot industrialist or a businessman, he would grant you an audience at the shortest possible notice.
I am sure readers can add to this list of grievances, which are by no means exhaustive. But together, they do provide me enough reasons to oppose him, for whatever little it is worth, tooth and nail. I am under absolutely no illusion that The Monarch would lose any sleep over my opposition or that of a hundred others like me as long as the people keep voting for him.
But I stand firm in my belief that all bad things (and Naveen’s reign is certainly one), like all good things, must come to an end someday. The only question is how soon that day would arrive.
Till that day arrives, I am proud to continue wearing anti-Naveenism on my sleeves, even if I am in a minority of one in the state.
* Sandeep Sahu, a senior Odisha-based journalist, is the Executive Editor of Odisha Sun Times. He also works as the Odisha correspondent of the BBC and contributes to a number of top national journals and news portals.