Sunday, September 24, 2017

Naveen Patnaik Might Just Disappoint His Critics Yet Again!

Call it inability of a population to react to incumbency or, possibly, a belief that has gripped the state, apparently in a trance, Odisha seems reluctant to let its current predominant political force, the Biju Janata Dal step down from its position as the ruling party in the state. Not for the next few years at least. In fact, the party is predicted to remain in power till it is led by its supremo Naveen Patnaik.


An alumnus of the elite Doon School and St. Stephen’s College, Patnaik’s inability to grasp the nuances of his native language, Odia, hasn’t proved to be a deterrent for him to command over the people’s political consciousness in the state. Although many prophesised that his halted and accented Odia, unfamiliarity with the Odisha’s cultural and geographical topography, and sophisticated manners would not take him far with the common people, most of them poor and uneducated; he proved them wrong by sweeping these masses and turning them into his major and biggest vote banks. True, since most of Odisha lives in the villages, his pro-poor policies and welfare schemes have helped expand BJD’s support base across Odisha.


This image of the Patnaik-led BJD has been further held up by many opinion polls conducted by different media houses who have consistently forecasted a landslide win for Patnaik and his party. The basis of this confidence in the party is attributed to its capacity for making the state immune to the Modi wave that washed across the entire nation in the 2014 general elections.


However, this unwavering support for the BJD in the state has been recently challenged by a series of aggressive rallies by the Bharatiya Janata Party especially when Modi chose Odisha for one of his five rallies marking the second anniversary of his government, at Balasore district in June 2016 followed by a visit by current President of BJP, Amit Shah.


But will any such feats by the BJP or Congress the seat of BJD in the state? Only the run up to the 2019 general elections can tell whether the two weakening parties of Congress and BJP may or may not challenge political status quo in the state. Indeed, the key lies in appeasing the rural masses, exactly, from where BJD derives its major share of votes.


As Odisha goes for the Panchayat polls in mid-February, and the BJD enters into the seventeenth consecutive year as the ruling party in the state, My City Links conducted an opinion poll to find out if there are any shifting temperaments on the ground that can keep the BJD from winning an unprecedented period of being in power in the upcoming local as well as 2019 general elections.



Our effort to map any rift in the ground that could have had Odisha witness any other party come to power, met with a predictable outcome with 69 % of survey participants saying that BJD will continue to wield power for the fifth term also, as against the 19 % of participants who felt that the party might lose owing to a list of factors.


“Rapid saffronisation of the entire country might tilt the balance gradually towards BJP in the state, even though the state unit of the party may not have done any significant work,” says Satyajit Tripathy, head of an event management institution in Bhubaneswar.


Only 12 percent of the participants were not certain if the party would win the elections while a few even declined from responding to the query. An advocate of Odisha High Court says, “The public might want a change since the BJD-led government is turning out to be monopolistic in its ways and the state’s economy is set to deteriorate in the long run, contrary to what is being projected. But it is foolish to forecast anything since people seem to be bewitched by Naveen’s magic.”


Do you think that the political party will continue to be in power for the next term as well?


Another opinion figure points to the party being able to improve the condition of the state only moderately despite it being in power for so long. An almost equal number of respondents believe that there hasn’t been any significant progress in the economic and political machinery of the state. It is mostly the Naveen loyalists who think the state has achieved much more than it did when the Congress was in power.


Has the party been successful in improving the state as a whole since it came to power?


The perception cannot also be entirely negated as Odisha still continues to be one of the poorest states in the country. Yet the campaign rallies have always witnessed a determined bid by the Chief Minister to point to its abundant mineral wealth and make it an industry-based state along with the welfare measures he has undertaken for the poor. His government, today, is pointing to its welfare agenda, that includes distributing freebies like laptop, bicycles, umbrella, blankets or even a subsidised rice or meal scheme and decreasing poverty levels, in a trade off for electoral votes.


Besides, the recent developments like Smart City Bhubaneswar campaign, Make in Odisha Conclave, Nasscom Meet, e-governance and better road connectivity are what the government is baiting the urban mass with. Areas like tourism and women empowerment have, nonetheless, received more focus and experienced considerable improvement. Many political spectators feel these welfare schemes are propelling the BJD’s win in the elections.


Do you think the BJD- government’s welfare schemes for the poor in the state to create a major vote bank will aid him in winning again in the coming elections?


While the BJD government flaunts its welfare schemes and policies, economists observe that the 16-year-old rule by Patnaik has failed to generate sustainable and wide employment base, or even hasn’t improved income levels and built a strong agricultural infrastructure, despite Odisha being a largely agrarian state. More or less, its welfare measures have only benefited the poor at the cost of long term corrosion of the economy.


Many of the other failures include corruption in multiple areas—from embezzling chit funds to large-scale illegal mining scams; CM’s silence over the major scandals and exposed offences of corrupt officials and politicians, blatant ignorance of the plight of school teachers, a poor health machinery in rural areas, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) payments, the Polavaram issue and even the Mahanadi river controversy.


Not just these, the state has also failed to credibly resolve the displacement conflicts between the industry and villagers or the tribals as in the case of POSCO or the Niyamgiri. Resultantly, out of the MoUs signed with 92 companies, only 41 companies have started partial production.


Echoing the sentiments of a large number of poll participants, member of Transparency International India, Biswajit Mohanty says, “Although the Panchayat elections are just around the corner, it is likely that BJD will yet again breeze through them. Even as there is a long list of disappointments, the opposition has been unsuccessful in adequately highlighting the local issues that are closer to the people. With a weakened Congress in the state, the BJP too hasn’t been able to fill the vacuum. Moreover, for larger issues like the chit fund or the mining scandals, the Opposition could have well utilised the opportunity to pull down the government but their intra-party factionalism has left them under equipped to function coherently against the ruling party. The Congress and BJD are yet to match the strong grass root network and cadre base of the BJD.”


“In fact, the central government during the UPA regime and now with the Modi-led BJP government could have used their power to probe the scandals and implicate the entire band of corrupt BJD ministers. Instead, with the kind of nexus that exists between the Centre and the BJD supremo, he has been able to bail himself out of trouble in all the critical situations, leaving all the attacks by the state units of both the opposing parties to be muted. This leaves Odisha at the mercy of BJD since it has never really mattered as a state in the scheme of things for the central government,” adds Biswajit.


Talking on the industries and economic development front, Sushant Khuntia, agriculture entrepreneur based in the city, says “The thought of holding a conclave like Make in Odisha is well intentioned, but all that to turn into reality, the action needs to percolate to the ground and not just be restricted to panel discussions. The real growth rate is far different from the indicators advertised in the government brochures. Even the farmer has started thinking whether the food subsidies are actually helping him or turning him into a handicap?”


Who Controls the State Government?

On asking why Khuntia feels the figures are fabricated, he replies, “These are figures portrayed by the bureaucrats who have a tendency to project higher growth rate to be above the national average. This does not reflect the problems of the middle class or the rural mass. The problems need to be voiced and addressed by the ministers who are the elected representatives of the people. The bureaucrats are certainly at the helm of affairs of the state government.”


As Khuntia alleges, many of our participants also raised concern over the fact that the state government is being run by the bureaucrats. Ministers merely hold ceremonial positions and the actual responsibility lies with the bureaucrats who call the shots.


Naveen Patnaik is hand in gloves with the bureaucracy deliberately overlooking the prevalent corruption so that his position is not disturbed and he gets re elected for every term,” says Biswajit 


According to you, is Naveen Patnaik in control of the state government or is it being run by the bureaucrats?


BJD’s Success Mantra

The allegations lead us to enquire about what then probably could be the success mantra for Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government for retaining power for four consecutive terms. While welfare schemes and good governance were a factor for the party to win, it is Patnaik himself who is the major reason for the voters to place their faith in BJD. His introvert personality allows him benefit of doubt of a clean political image while his being heir to Biju Patnaik’s legacy makes him equally endearing to the people. Nevertheless, half of the participants opined that lack of any other credible leader with a pan-state appeal from the Opposition further inclines the public in favour of Patnaik.


Furthermore, with majority of the voters illiterate and poor, welfare schemes work well to attract these voters. The media and the civil society too have vested interests and have refrained from being the government’s critics


What do you think has been the success formula for Biju Janata Dal to form the government in the state and retain power for four consecutive terms?


Who After Naveen Patnaik?

Although a certain discontent is evident among the common public against the BJD government as its care is gradually inhibiting the growth of the state while increasing inequalities, the politically aware ones, perhaps, will now second the need for a change. However, citing Naveen’s failures leads nowhere as the parties fail to project other alternative leader of similar stature and appeal. Two of the most contending leaders who seem eligible for the chief minister candidature are BJD’s Baijayant Jay Panda and the Petroleum Minister in the Modi cabinet, Dharmendra Pradhan. Though one of the most active and visible ministers of the Modi regime, Pradhan is, however, not seen as a mass leader.


While there is no dearth of leaders in our state, the political parties are yet to project one such leader who can emerge as an alternative to the current Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.


If Naveen Patnaik fails to come into power again, who do you think will be the next best candidate for becoming the Chief Minister of Odisha?


Survey conducted by the entire team of My City Links