Opposition Flounders As Naveen Aims For A Record Fifth Term

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Both the major opposition parties are trying hard to find faults with chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and his party. This is because it would give them an advantage over him. However, the chances of their being able to find chinks in his armour appear remote. As of it he remains a leader with an impeccable track record.

As elections draw close, opposition parties have been trying hard to find chinks in chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s armour. Congress recently came out with a slew of allegations against him and the BJP has sought to embarrass him by playing the Paika card.

With patriotic passions running high in the country in the wake of Pulwama terror attack senior BJP leader and UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath during his recent trip to Odisha accused the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha of being reluctant to allot land for raising a memorial to the heroes of Paika rebellion in the state.

“Odisha government is not allotting land for constructing a memorial to honour the Paika heroes,” said Adityanath addressing a public meeting at Nachuni in Khurda district, the land of Paika heroes.

Paikas are the members of state’s warrior caste. Paika rebellion, also known as Paika Bidroha, was an armed uprising against the British East India Company’s rule in Odisha in 1817. It came much before the 1857 sepoy mutiny which is generally regarded as the first Indian war of independence.

Paika politics has intensified in the state with both BJD and BJP demanding that the 1817 rebellion be treated as the first Indian war of independence. Keen on cornering the credit in this regard the BJP-led Centre has, for all practical purposes, accepted it as the country’s first independence war and also commemorated the 200 years of Paika rebellion.

The Centre has been asking the state government to allot 50 acres of land in the foothills of Barunei in Khurda, the site from where the rebellion began, to construct a memorial in the honour of Paika heroes. In October last year union petroleum and natural gas minister, Dharmendra Pradhan had urged Odisha chief minister to expedite the process of land allotment and also released to the media a letter stating that union culture minister, Mahesh Sharma had had requested for about 50 acres to be made available for the construction of the memorial in the Barunei foothills.

A museum and audio-visual son-et-lumiere show depicting the life and times of state’s most revered Paika leader, Buxi Jagabandhu and the Paika rebellion are proposed to be the attractions of the memorial. However, the state government is yet to allot the land. With elections knocking at the door BJP leaders have begun contrasting the state government’s attitude with the Centre’s keenness to honour the Paika heroes.

Recalling that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was the first to felicitate the descendants of the heroes of Paika rebellion during his visit to the state in April, 2017 they have accused the Naveen Patnaik government of not showing the same kind of respect for the Paika freedom fighters.

The comments of Yogi Adityanath at his public meeting at Nachuni have re-ignited the war between BJP and BJD over the issue. The battle is likely to intensify as the elections draw closer.

However, BJP propaganda is unlikely to dent the chief minister’s popularity as it was his party that had made the first attempt to bring the immense contribution of Paikas to the country’s freedom to light. It was also the first to demand that Paika rebellion be officially recognised as country’s first war of independence.

As far as Congress’s allegations against the chief minister are concerned they are unlikely to cut much ice with the electorate with the party’s credibility at an all time low in the state. The party that has ruled the state for the longest period appears to be falling apart and has already been replaced by the BJP as the state’s main opposition party for all practical purposes.

That BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of Congress’s decline in the state is evident from the analysis of the results of last panchayat polls when the saffron outfit bagged a record 297 zila parishad, a quantum leap from 36 zila parishad seats in 2012.

However, ruling BJD leaders appear equally confident about cornering Congress votes in the coming general elections. They argue that voter behaviour in the general elections would be vastly different from the panchayat polls. There is no denying that Congress is in a bad shape and could not capitalize even on the collapse of BJP-BJD alliance in the state in 2009.

Things continue to be in the same vein for the Congress which recently saw two of its powerful MLAs – Naba Kishore Das and Jogesh Singh – joining the BJD. The party has already thrown out former union minister, Srikant Jena in a bid to infuse discipline among its leaders. The move, however, led Jena acolyte and former Koraput MLA, Krushna Chandra Sagaria to quit and join the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The truth is that bereft of charisma, the new generation of Congress leaders has failed to keep the party united. Factional fights have only worsened. When Prasad Harichandan was the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president he had coined the slogan of Mun Nuhen Amen (We, not I) in what was seen as a bid to evolve a collective leadership.

But he quickly fell victim to a fierce intra-party feud with the chasm between PCC and the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) growing. Things came to a head soon with a powerful group of party MLAs declaring an open war against the PCC chief leaving the central leadership with no choice but to replace him with Patnaik who was being backed by a majority of MLAs. However, two of the same MLAs have now walked out on Patnaik.

All this is, however, good for chief minister, Naveen Patnaik as he steps up his campaign for the coming elections. He knows only too well that stakes are high for him as a victory would give him a record fifth term in office. And this is why both and his party are putting their best foot forward.

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