Problem Of Plenty
The state of Odisha has topped the list in terms of poverty and migration during Naveen Patnaik 14-year rule. The Raghuram Rajan Committee in its report has put Odisha as the least developed state. Crime rates, scams, human rights atrocities and violations, hunger deaths, suicidal farmers etc. have all hogged the headlines. The government is battling charges in the mining and coal scams and the rural jobs scheme. Inspite of all this, opinion poll show Naveen Patnaik as an unchallenged force in Odisha, and predict that he will win 17 of the state’s 21 seats, three more than the previous election, and cross the 100 mark in the 147 seat State Assembly. Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal is definitely the most powerful party in the country today.
Every time the chimera of the Third Front emerges, it is to him that the leaders make a beeline too, he is the fittest contender for the Prime Minister’s post in any third front, but he just shrugs it off. “I have no ambition of becoming the Prime Minister. I have the blessings of the people of Odisha, and will like to serve the state,” says Patnaik.
So great is the momentum that senior leaders from the Congress and the BJP have ditched their parties on flimsy grounds and joined the BJD. There has been a virtual exodus. The Leader of the Opposition in the state, Bhupinder Singh quit the Congress and joined the BJD. Former Minister Golak Naik of the BJP too jumped ships. Both the BJP and the Congress are presumed to be sinking ships by their own leaders.
Naveen’s BJD ended an 11-year alliance with the BJP just before the 2009 election and won 14 seats. The BJP drew a blank, which indicated that the split made no difference to the Odisha-based party, though it substantially weakened its former ally. The BJP in the state is in complete disarray. Political observers are of the opinion that the BJD is going strong as both its rivals have failed to take up the common man’s issues and offer credible leadership. There is a visible erosion in the vote base of the Congress, which is expected to see its tally drop by half to three seats. The BJP is predicted to win one seat.
Naveen is all set to maintain his dominance in Odisha, despite a perceived wave in the BJP’s favour, and even though this is his first poll without his trusted mentor Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who rebelled two years ago. This severance could not stop him from strengthening his own position inside the BJD as its unchallenged leader and his party’s position in Odisha’s electoral space. He focused on endearing himself to the masses by announcing a series of schemes, offering cheap rice, free cycles and umbrellas and financial aids for pregnant women and even cremation.
His popularity was seen in the recently concluded municipal elections in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Berhampur and other urban centres, where it trounced the opposition. This has been a shot in the arm and motivated the party rank and file for a repeat performance in the 2014 General Elections. The BJD has also consolidated its position in the western parts of Odisha—a traditional stronghold of the Congress and the BJP. To make the party more performance-oriented, Patnaik has got several internal surveys conducted to assess his elected representatives. A party source said many unpopular ones would be replaced.
Patnaik has entrusted government officers, especially district collectors, with the task of identifying individuals—not necessarily party members—who were acceptable to people in their respective areas.
At a time, when they should be sinking differences among themselves, state Congress leaders are busy fighting their turf battles with each other rather than fighting the Naveen Patnaik government. When Naveen appeared to be at his most vulnerable on the eve the elections they seemed determined to give him a virtual walk-over, with their internal squabbling. The BJP, on the other hand, is known for running a tight ship, which is rudderless. Its only strength is a committed cadre-base. It was on show when it organised the mammoth rallies for its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur. However, the party’s top state leadership is still groping for a suitable strategy and hopes for the Modi magic to work. Both the parties seem to have given the BJD supremo a walkover, an unprecedented fourth consecutive term as chief minister. On the hindsight, Naveen has been the charming boy for both the high commands of the BJP and the Congress. Central ministers were not stingy with the praise they lauded on him during their trips to the state. Even as he cites “Central neglect” for all the ills of the state and demands Special Category Status. The top leaders of the BJP chose not to speak out against him. During the last rally of Modi at Sambalpur, he just gave some tepid remarks against the state CM. In the post-election scenario, when the number crunching starts, the BJD will call the shots. It seems that both the Comgress and the BJP have a tactical understanding and a blow hot, blow cold relationship – of the kind that the Congress has with Mulayam and Mayawati now – with the BJD after the elections.With the Congress and BJP high command seemingly on his side, Naveen can laugh all the way to the vote bank – chanting ‘central neglect’ all along the way!