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Invincible Naveen's Odisha narrative
A clean image, pro-poor schemes and economic emancipation for women contributed to Naveen Patnaik's spectacular victory in the Assembly elections in Odisha. On the other hand, criminal neglect of Odisha in the last five years and the absence of a credible face to run the state explain the sorry state of the saffron outfit in Odisha.

If Naveen Patnaik completes his five-year term this time, the record of the longest serving Chief Minister of a state will be in his name. Apart from Patnaik, only two other Chief Ministers ? Pawan Chamling of Sikkim and Jyoti Basu of West Bengal ? got elected to their respective state Assemblies for the fifth consecutive term and became Chief Minister of their respective states. The stint of Gegong Apang of Arunachal Pradesh was not unbroken; he was not the Chief Minister of his state during the period from 1999 to 2003. 

Naveen came to power at a time when he alone could deliver. Against the backdrop of prevailing political instability following the exit of veteran Congress leader Janaki Ballav Patnaik, Odisha needed a new leader. In the Indian National Congress (INC), there was a leadership crisis. Giridhar Gamang, a former Union Minister, shouldered the responsibility, but he could survive only for 291 days.

Poor management of the post-cyclone rehabilitation work and inept handling of the state bureaucracy cost him his job.  He was replaced by tribal leader Hemananda Biswal, who served for 91 days in his second stint. The crisis was too immense for him to manage.  The unstable governments failed miserably to manage the unprecedented crisis emerging out of the 1999 super cyclone which devastated coastal Odisha, leaving about 10,000 people dead, tens of thousands homeless, thousands of livestock perished, millions of trees uprooted and crippling the state economy.

Naveen's equation with BJP veterans Vajpayee and Advani being extremely good and his party the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) being a part of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-I, he managed to steer the state clear of the prevailing crisis. Reconstruction work was accelerated; state economy got stabilised.  The community was prepared to manage natural disasters. That is why people could face cyclones like Phailin, Hudhud, Titli and Fani. Damage was caused every time a calamity occurred, but the extent of damage could be contained.  Maybe, he could have done more.

In the UPA regime that followed, he raised the issue of neglect of Odisha, but he was not very uncomfortable. His personal equation with the Nehru-Gandhi family helped him to manage the affairs of the state. Of course, he failed to materialise Posco; mega projects did not take off. He failed to address unemployment problem. He failed to a certain extent; but probably all these did not happen due to his fault alone.

Naveen's detractors pointed out that he did not know Odia language. Whenever he spoke Odia, he simply read out a speech typed either in English or in Devnagiri script. His utterances often became subjects of joke. But that certainly did not take away his sincerity in learning the language of the state. He was instrumental in giving Odia the status of a Classical language. It was during his tenure that an Odia university could be established. Other Chief Ministers who were considered authors and scholars in Odia could not even think of doing so.

Naveen won successive elections after 2000 and returned to power in 2004, 2009 and 2014. BJD and BJP parted ways in 2009, in the wake of communal violence in Kandhamal. But parting of ways did not adversely impact Naveen's political career. He emerged stronger after every election and after every move he made. He got rid of disgruntled elements who attempted to challenge his authority. People earlier perceived as his or his late father's close aids wanted to rule in his name, reducing him to be a mere rubber stamp. They grossly underestimated Naveen and were all thrown out in due course. Naveen's pro-poor schemes earned him people's goodwill; the women's self-help groups he set up made him popular among women, ensuring their unwavering support in every election.

This time, Naveen fielded women as candidates for Lok Sabha elections in one-third of the seats. And five of them succeeded. Incidentally, of the seven Lok Sabha MPs from Odisha, five belong to the BJD. Pramila Bisoi, a grassroots level worker associated with Sata Sankha self-help group of Nalabanta village in Ganjam district, contested from Aska constituency where she won by a margin of more than 3 lakh votes. Chandrani Murmu, the 25-year engineering graduate from Keonjhar district, became the youngest member of the Parliament. She defeated two-time BJP MP Ananta Nayak by a margin of more than 66,000 votes. Rajashree Mallick, an associate professor in Pathology department of SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, won the Jagatsinghpur seat on a BJD ticket. The other two BJD women leaders who successfully contested the elections include Sarmistha Sethi, who had taken voluntary retirement from Odisha Financial Service and Manjulata Mandal, a housewife. Ms. Sethi and Ms. Mandal won Jajpur and Bhadrak seats respectively. All these moves reflect the Naveen's sincerity to give voice to the voiceless and ensure democratic participation of ordinary men and women who have not made politics their profession.

The absence of a credible face in the opposition contributed to the success of BJD in the Assembly polls. A demoralised and faction-ridden INC was nowhere in the electoral battle. It even failed to put up a semblance of a contest. Even the Odisha PCC President lost from the two seats he contested. It seemed that the party had given up even before the first phase of polling.

One of India's undefeated and unchallenged political leader is Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who has never affected by anti-incumbency and he has always avoided the personalised attacks in his political race. It is not his habit to make personal or harsh statements against anyone. Naveen says, "I think my Government's development and welfare programmes accept by the people of Odisha. The farmers, women and tribals especially the below poverty line people of my state have accepted my sincere and dedicated work for them. I think in six parliamentary constituencies we lost by a mere 10,000 to 20,000 votes so it was not such a difference."

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), although it gave a tough contest, did not have a credible leader who could become the state's Chief Minister for coming five years. Neither the party's present nor any of its former state unit Presidents was tipped for the top post. The tribal leader, who was the lone member of the Parliament from Odisha in the last Lok Sabha, did not have clout in his party and was never considered a serious contender. The person who spearheaded the campaign had been elected to the upper house of the Parliament from another state. His not contesting the Assembly election was taken, rightly or wrongly, as a move to enter the state politics from the back door, in the event of  his party coming to power. His verbal attack on the suave Odisha Chief Minister was not taken kindly by the voters of the state.

Moreover, the all India party did precious little to endear the voters of Odisha. It had alienated the people on Mahanadi and Polavaram issues. The Union Government did not increase the minimum support price of foodgrain as per the Swaminathan formula, thus depriving the poor farmers of the state their due. It discontinued funding the KBK scheme. It did not allocate and spend adequate funds for railways in the state. Odisha did not get the special category status it demanded. People had a feeling that the state was harassed for opting for a non-BJP government.

However, the BJP-led NDA government claimed that it accorded due importance to Odisha. Its slogan Poorvi Bharat Se Ho Raha Hai Naye Bharat Ka Uday (A new India will rise from the rising east) did not impress the voters. People soon realised that it was an election stunt, meant to compensate the perceived loss of seats in Uttar Pradesh and other states of the Hindi heartland. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and several Union Ministers paid frequent visits to the state and boasted that they had a mission of winning more than 120 seats of the Assembly. They tried to impress the voters by narrating the Balakot episode. They created the impression of a strong central government and successfully made inroads to the constituencies. They won 8 of the state's 21 Parliamentary constituencies which is no mean feat.

The remark of the Prime Minister in an election meeting that the exit of Naveen Patnaik was imminent was certainly hard to swallow. Even Naveen did not take it kindly and promptly invited the Prime Minister to his swearing-in ceremony after 23 May. The voters of Odisha, it seems, preferred split voting. A large number of them voted for BJP for the Parliament, but they went with BJD for the Assembly. They knew that Modi is for the centre, not for Odisha. That explains the Odisha narrative ? people considered BJP for the centre, but rejected it for the state. The managers of the saffron outfit must realise that they have no right to take the people of Odisha for granted. Without encouraging grassroots level workers they cannot come to power; the design to impose leadership on the people of the state will not work. A leader emerges; he/ she is not imposed.

On BJD's role on BJP's government and his remarks on Prime Minister Modi Naveen Says, "BJD is a regional political party and regional political party has regional interests and ambitions for the growth of the state and its people. I was really delighted to hear the Prime Minister Modi's speech. That was, of reaching out to minorities and wanting to put them in the national mainstream scenario. My interaction with PM Modi has always been pleasant and Modi ji proved to be very supportive, with the funds he immediately approved for Odisha. We always believe in constructive cooperation with the central government."

There is something called BOP in economics, meaning, 'Balance of Payment'.  Similarly, in politics, there is BOP, which means 'Balance of Power'. Voters of Odisha know how to balance things in politics. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is not the sole regional party which has come to power in the state. True, other regional parties did not have such unbroken stint in the state politics; nevertheless, they shared power for brief periods. Earlier, Ganatantra Parishad (GP), a regional party of former princes and landlords, formed a coalition government with the Indian National Congress (INC) on 22 May 1959 and its President, Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, became the finance minister of the state. The coalition government collapsed on 21 February 1961.  In 1962, GP merged with the Odisha unit of the Swatantra Party founded by C. Rajagopalachari in 1959.

The Jana Congress was another regional party formed in 1966 when Harekrushna Mahtab, former Chief Minister, left the INC. After the 1967 elections, the Swatantra-Jana Congress coalition government ruled the state from 1967 to 1971. Utkal Congress, yet another regional party, was formed in 1969 when Biju Patnaik left the INC. After elections in 1971, Utkal Congress took part in the Swatantra-Utkal Congress-Jharkhand coalition ministry headed by Biswanath Das in 1971-72.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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