The growing presence of Bharatiya Janata Party in Odisha’s political turf where BJD holds sway, has changed the equilibrium. With the general elections not far, these two political parties - one which occupies power and the other which has emerged as the challenger - have gone for one another’s jugular.
The war of words has escalated as the political narrative witnesses a change for the first time in last 17 years. With both BJD and BJP unleashing a campaign to win the battle of perception, political discourse has been the casualty in the state which was once known for its civility. In their war of attrition, leaders of both parties have not refrained from getting personal.
Known to inspire the masses with their verbose, BJP leaders in the state have often used their powers of eloquence to target the ruling party members. The central leadership of BJP, through their frequent visits, have not only conveyed how important Odisha is for them in the next elections, they have missed no opportunity to take potshots at the ruling party and its supremo.
For instance, BJP’s national president Amit Shah, in his last visit to Odisha, gave a tongue-lashing to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for “running a corrupt government.” He did not stop at that. “Naveen Patnaik is a defunct transformer, while Narendra Modi is a powerhouse,” said Shah to a gathering of intellectuals in Bhubaneswar during his three-day visit to the state.
Though he pointed out several loopholes with the BJD Government and its inefficiency in developing the state, his analogy of Naveen as a “defunct transformer” in presence of senior leaders of the state was not exactly well-received.
Picture Courtesy: Pragativadi
The matter, however, got nipped in the bud as Patnaik, a man of few words, chose silence over provocation and retort by ignoring Shah’s comments.
Not only Amit Shah, Union Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javadekar recently lashed out at the state government for being ‘inefficient.’ He took a dig at the state government of popularising populist schemes like the ‘one rupee rice’ sanctioned by the Centre as their programmes. Javadekar slighted the Naveen government by stating, “The highly subsidised food security programme should be described as ‘Modi rice scheme’. As the state government has very little contribution to the centrally-funded scheme, the BJD should not take credit for it.”
Facts apart, the HRD Minister’s statement seemed more of an attempt to humiliate the BJD than awaken the people about the state’s well-being.
And, it’s not only the national leaders and central ministers who’ve taken liberties with their speeches; leaders of BJP’s state wing make comments by the passing every other day. In the most controversial war of words, Secretary of BJP state unit, Lekhashree Samantasinghar, in a recent press meet, commented on senior BJD leader Damodar Rout, “In the Mahabharata that is unfolding within the BJD now, you all can clearly read from my words about who is playing the role of Shrikhandi in the entire drama. The BJD chief is the main villain of Mahabharata-the blind, deaf and dumb Dhritarashtra. He has let loose the Shrikhandi of this modern-day Mahabharata to cover up his government’s weakness, inactivity, and inefficiency.”
Picture Courtesy: i.ytimg.com
If calling Rout ‘Shrikhandi’ wasn’t enough political slur, Lekhashree, again, implicitly alluded Rout to a circus joker. Her statements were far from being worthy of political humour; they instead raised eyebrows being construed as misbehaviour by a young political leader.
However, in this case, the senior leader from BJD also left no stone unturned to retaliate. Rout reacted, “She neither has any political standing nor a good reputation in the society. She hasn’t even contested in a single election. Besides, if Naveen Patnaik is Dhritarashtra, did BJP then, forge an alliance with his party thinking him to be Pandu’s son Dharmaraj Yudhisthir?”
Adding more grain to his assault, he said, “The people of Odisha know if I am a joker or Pandu’s son Arjun. She is aware how my pashupat arrow will inflict an injury on them.” Though considered to be a comment from Rout’s witty repertoire, he did later clarify that his comment did not have any leanings towards vulgarity. It was only a colloquial Odia proverb and did not imply anything derogatory against women.
While the animosity among political parties has been a general trend in politics where members of political parties have targeted the ruling or opposition party in their speeches, resorting to indecent personal comments has now become the latest code of conduct.
Panchayat Raj Minister Pradeep Maharthy in BJD’s recent Janasampark (public meeting) gathering blamed the BJP and exhorted on the ignorance of Centre about Odisha, meanwhile using unparliamentarily words in his public speech. The language used in his speech was so offensive that the women present in the meeting had to leave midway through it!
Picture Courtesy: odishasuntimes.com
These controversies, nonetheless, have evoked different responses from the parties involved. Sulochana Das, spokesperson of BJD and ex- Congress member, said, “Although the senior leader from our party may have made a controversial statement, the party is far away from such practice. Our party supremo Naveen Patnaik has ensured that ethics in politics is always maintained. He has himself had quite a non-controversial reputation in practicing politics.”
“Besides, party members have their personal views, but being public representatives, they should not utter unethical language in public. Furthermore, the concerned party member was also trying to reply to unfair comments from the opposition. However, unparliamentary conduct shall not be justified by the party under any circumstances,” said Das.
However, citing Rout’s behaviour, she explained, “Dr. Damodar Rout is one of the senior politicians of the state and is also an educated person and a public representative. Calling him ‘Shrikhandi’ (implying him to be a transgender) is sheer disrespect towards a senior politician like him.”
Similarly, defending his party member’s stance, BJP state vice-president Sameer Mohanty said, “There are three major componentsof democracy like legislation, executive and judiciary. To maintain proper democracy, opposition has to play a vital role. We are just doing our duty as the opposition in pointing out flaws with the corrupt government. However, ministers and senior leaders of ruling party giving derogatory speech in public is definitely unethical.”
Talking about the controversial statements of his party leaders, he said, “The words used by our leaders are not unparliamentary. As I said, opposition has all the rights to criticise the ruling party for their inefficiency. Therefore, our party leaders have just tried to criticise their work by giving different examples, which was justified and ethical. Calling the chief minister a ‘burnt ‘transformer’ was an example of inactiveness. Transformer is a power station and is used to supply power to other substations. Naveen Patnaik was compared to a dead transformer because of his political inactivity and his ineffectiveness.”
Similarly, Damodar Rout too clarified, “My statement was not intentional nor was it targeted at any particular individual or group. I regret my words if they have hurt anybody’s sentiment. Again, I must say that my statement has been exaggerated and also hyped unnecessarily.”
Lekhashree Samantasinghar justified her stand by saying, “The word Srikhandi was not used indicate any physical attribute. It was rather a metaphorical statement explaining BJD’s situation to be similar to King Dhritarastra, who stayed away from active politics while taking Srikhandi’s help in all situations. My statement, clearly, was made to indicate the political activities in the state. It is sad how my statement has been misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.”
When demanded an apology by the BJD, Lekhashree replied, “There is no scope for me to apologise. I have not said anything wrong or vulgar. As opposition, it is our duty to come up with loopholes with the ruling party. I was only doing my job. I have not disrespected anyone.”
Well, the declining quality of political discourse is not new. It has happened across the country but with both parties getting personal, the current scenario threatens to leave a lasting impression on politics in the state.
The verbal battle that these politicians engage in have metamorphosed the state politics into a child’s game, which can be handled in funny ways, one of it being hurling abuses at other parties and their members. The political system is not only changing according to the whims and fancies of these politicians, it is also leaving threatening marks on the quality and trajectory of politics in the state.
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