A More Combative Naveen

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Amit Shah coining the slogan of Mission 120+ for the next assembly elections in Odisha. He has been visiting frequently with his tone against Naveen government getting increasingly strident. The BJP has also been making personal attacks on the chief minister, questioning his ‘clean’ image and demanding that his election expenses be brought under scrutiny.

Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik appears to be in a combative mood, drawing the battle lines firmly with the BJP. The realization having dawned that 2019 is going to be a battle between his party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and a resurgent BJP, he is no more blowing hot and cold towards the saffron outfit, a habit that in the past had sent confusing signals to his cadres.

Now it’s an all out war with general Naveen leading from the front. Not long ago launching BJD’s Jan Sampark padyatra from a capital slum he had fired a warning salvo at his enemy.  “Some parties (read BJP) are indulging in malicious propaganda. People will give them a fitting reply,” said Naveen as he also targeted the Centre for treating Odisha in a step-motherly fashion, not conceding its demand for being treated as a special category state.

As if his own attacks on the BJP and NDA government  were not enough,  he then deployed one of his most experienced leaders Damodar Rout to debunk Centre’s claim about BJP-ruled states being better than others in the country. Rout reeled out statistics to prove that Odisha had done better than many BJP states including Rajasthan and Gujrat in crucial areas indicative of development.

This was followed by BJD Dalit Cell’s demonstration against atrocities on dalits in BJP-ruled states like UP and Gujarat. The party’s dalit cell chief, former minister, Bishnu Das had even expressed his willingness to campaign against BJP in the upcoming Gujarat elections.

All this is in sharp contrast to the past when on the instructions of the chief minister the BJD had lent NDA a helping hand in getting the controversial Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amedment Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha in May 2016. Hoping to gain by maintaining a cordial relationship with the BJP Naveen’s party had also extended support to NDA’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind who went on to become the President of India. No wonder in the wake of Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar returning to the NDA fold speculation was rife that Naveen would do the same. But any such hopes were put paid to by the increasing aggression of state BJP which seems to be on the upswing since winning 297 zila parishad seats, a record for the party, in the panchayat polls held in February.

This was followed by BJP president, Amit Shah coining the slogan of Mission 120+ for the next assembly elections in the state which Shah has been visiting frequently with his tone against Naveen government getting increasingly strident. The BJP, which has, for all practical purposes, replaced the Congress as the main opposition party in the state, has also been making personal attacks on the chief minister, questioning his ‘clean’ image and demanding that his election expenses be brought under scrutiny.

Thanks to the internecine war of the Congress which seems to be going downhill despite having 16 MLAs, six more than BJP, power equations in the state have changed emphatically. Unless the Congress stages a dramatic recovery, which seems completely unexpected at the moment, the next election should see a direct battle between BJP and BJD.

With BJP growing at a fast clip Naveen seems to have decided that offence is the best defence. But he is conducting this war tactfully, even seeking an image makeover for the purpose.

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