The political highlight of the year 2017 was the intensified rivalry between ruling Biju Janata Dal and BJP while the Congress found itself mired in internal strife. Odisha figures prominently in BJP’s scheme of things was also evident from the fact that the party held its national executive in Bhubaneswar in April with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and other senior leaders setting the party’s agenda for 2019.
The year just gone by saw many momentous developments take place on the political front. Many of these developments kept the state in focus at the national level. However, the political highlight of the year was the intensified rivalry between ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and BJP while the Congress found itself mired in internal strife. The year also saw the three major parties of the state launch preparations for the next general elections in the right earnest.
While the BJP, enthused by its creditable performance in the rural polls–the party notched up a tally of 297 Zila Parishad seats, up from 36 in 2012 – set itself a target of winning 120 assembly seats in the state and came up with programmes like “Mo Booth Sabuthu Mazboot (my booth is the strongest)” to achieve the target, the BJD responded with brand new voter-centric initiatives such as Ama Gaon Ama Vikas (Our village our development). Not willing to concede an inch to its rival, the party also organized training camps for its block-level party leaders to make them ready for the 2019 elections.
Setting the tone for the intensified rivalry between the two parties BJP president, Amit Shah visited the state thrice between July and September galvanizing cadres and launching blistering attacks against chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. That Odisha figures prominently in BJP’s scheme of things was also evident from the fact that the party held its national executive in Bhubaneswar in April with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and other senior leaders setting the party’s agenda for 2019.
Both the parties also dug into a bit history in a bid to bring to the fore Odisha’s national heroes, all with an eye to the next elections. There was an attempt to put freedom fighters like Buxi Jagabandhu on the center-stage with Paika rebellion of 1817 being touted as the first war of Indian independence. During BJP’s national executive in Bhubaneswar the venue was named after the 19th century poet Bhima Bhoi, a highly respected figure in the state.
While the Naveen Patnaik government on July 18 passed a cabinet resolution urging the union government to declare Paika rebellion as India’s first war of independence two days later the Centre commemorated the bicentenary of this event at a glittering ceremony attended by union ministers, Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram, both BJP veterans from Odisha.
Both the parties also traded charges on several occasions. While the BJP accused chief minister, Naveen Patnaik of election expense irregularities the ruling BJD brought similar charges against BJP veteran and union minister, Jual Oram. Both the parties were also engaged in recriminations over developmental projects in the state with BJD accusing the Centre of deliberately curtailing funds. The BJP hit back saying that the state is unable to spend the funds allotted by the Centre.
The upcoming by-poll in Bijepur, for which the dates are yet to be announced, saw the two parties not only trade charges but also engineer defections in the ranks of each other. While Rita Sahu, the wife of Congress MLA, Subal Sahu whose death in August set the stage for the bye-election, joined the BJD and was promptly declared its candidate from the constituency former ruling party MLA from Bijepur, Ashok Panigrahy joined the BJP. But this triggered severe resentment in the saffron ranks with the party’s Bargarh district president, Narayan Sahu crossing over to the BJD in protest.
The end of the year saw some interesting developments in BJD and BJD. While chief minister, Naveen Patnaik sacked agriculture minister, Damodar Rout for his controversial remarks against Brahmins there was intense speculation over the career of BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra after the Kendrapara unit of the party dropped him as a special invitee and urged the state party leadership to take action against him for indulging in “anti-party” activities.
Following his dismissal from the ministry, Rout skipped BJD’s 20th foundation day celebrations organized for the first time in Puri in an apparent bid by the chief minister to strike an emotional chord with the Odias for whom Srikhetra, another name for the temple town, is the most respected center of pilgrimage in the country.
As BJP and BJD donned the boxing gloves with a growing perception that they will fight it out for the top honours in 2019 the Congress, technically the main opposition party of the state with 16 MLAs in the state assembly to 10 of the saffron party, appeared to be on a downslide with factionalism taking a heavy toll of its credibility. The end of the year saw the rift between Pradesh Congress Committee and the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) widening further.
The relief for PCC president, Prasad Harichandan was the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as the president of Congress as the latter is supposed to be sympathetic to the Odisha leader. The supporters of Harichandan hope that the clamour for his removal would subside with Rahul taking up the reins of the party. But Harichandan’s fate will still hang in the balance.
If the year was about rivalry and controversies it also saw death bringing the curtain down on two diametrically opposite political careers. While former Lok Sabha speaker and socialist veteran, Rabi Ray passed away on March 6 bringing an era in state politics to an end, about two weeks later bureaucrat-turned-politician, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, once hailed as the Chanakaya of state politics, breathed his last.(January1-15-2018PP)