There is growing realisation within the Biju Janata Dal that retaining the Bijepur seat is important for the party. After all, the seat had been won by Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik. Hence the party has begun its preparations for the battle in right earnest. The Chief Minister has scored a point over his rivals with his government launching a crackdown on touts in government hospitals under his “Mo Sarkar” initiative.
Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik’s drive to make administration pro-people has been in focus for the past few months. However now it has begun showing results. Significantly it is showing results at a crucial time that is ahead of the crucial by-poll battle in Bijepur. The Bijepur assembly seat has fallen vacant since Patnaik gave it up in favour of his traditional seat of Hinjili in Ganjam district.
Acting on the instructions of the chief minister the police recently cracked down on touts (dalals) exploiting poor and vulnerable patients in several hospitals across the State. More than 30 middlemen were arrested in just two days from hospitals in Bhubaneswar, Bolangir and Burla.
Bolangir collector, Arindam Dakua said the administration had acted following chief minister’s concern over exploitation of poor patients in hospitals. Talking to Chief District Medical Officers (CDMOs) on the government’s Mo Sarkar initiative through video conferencing recently Patnaik had directed the police superintendents to make hospitals free of middlemen.
The drive has evoked positive reactions from the people with many hailing it as a step in the right direction. “Though late the government is finally acting against these touts who have been exploiting poor patients for a long time,” said a Bhubaneswar resident.
The positive response to the drive has boosted the credibility of Biju Janata Dal time at a time when the party is gearing up for the by-poll in Bijepur which it has to retain at any cost. The chief minister, as we all know, had taken a conscious decision to contest simultaneously from Hinjili and Bijepur with a view to boosting his party’s prospects in western Odisha.
It did help but not to the extent that he might have expected. While the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) did well in the assembly election all the five Lok Sabha seats in the region went to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It was only expected that Patnaik would step down as the MLA from Bijepur after his election.
Now that it has become clear that Patnaik’s candidature from Bijpur was only a strategic move the opposition might try to project this as a case of betrayal but the big question is whether the opposition can succeed in convincing the people of Bijepur that the chief minister has betrayed them.
This is not going to be easy because the opposition has lost its credibility. While the Congress has already been thoroughly discredited and would be in the by-poll fray only for the sake of marking its presence as a national party the BJP, too, suffers from a lack of credibility as in the last twenty years or so it has never raised issues pertaining to western Odisha, let alone Bijepur, convincingly.
From 2000 to 2009 when the BJP ruled the state in tandem with the BJD it never sought to raise issues such as poverty and backwardness of western Odisha as this might have upset its senior coalition partner. The party even did not protest against the lack of any substantial financial powers with the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) even though it had campaigned vigorously for grant of autonomy to the council when there was a Congress government in the state.
That, being BJP’s track record, it will find it hard to convince the people of Bijepur about its own sincerity in ensuring the development of the constituency – which is part of drought-prone Bargarh district of western Odisha. The BJD, on the other hand, might ask its rival to turn the mirror inwards before raising accusing fingers at the chief minister who, soon after quitting the Bijepur seat, had sought to assure the people of the constituency that its development will remain his priority irrespective of who represents it in the state assembly.
Patnaik having committed himself to nursing Bijepur even after quitting the seat is duty bound to ensure that the projects launched in the constituency in particular and Bargarh district in general are taken care of. For this he not only has to pay personal attention to the constituency but also ensure that its next MLA takes good care of its people.
Stakes are high for the BJD in Bijepur because chief minister’s image is on the line. The ruling party would be fighting to retain a seat that was won by Patnaik by an impressive margin. The party now represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of the region which faces several problems including inadequate irrigation facilities. An ambitious irrigation scheme launched by the chief minister in this area is yet to become fully functional.
For the BJP, too, it is going to be a prestige battle in that the party had done well in the constituency in the bye-election that was won by BJD’s Rita Sahu who happens to be the widow of Congress veteran, Subal Sahu who had won the seat thrice in a row as a Congress candidate. Now his entire family is in the BJD. In the last election, too, the saffron party had tried its best in Bijepur; though that was far from enough. Most importantly this will be an opportunity for the BJP to prove that the speculation about its tacit understanding with Naveen Patnaik’s party is wrong.
For the Congress the by-poll would be an opportunity to try and put up a united show irrespective of the outcome of the contest. But on current form neither the BJP nor the Congress can even think of coming anywhere near the BJD which is getting a clear favourite in Bijepur.