Advantage Naveen: As Parties Gear Up For the Big battle

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Major parties in the state have begun preparing for the big battle in 2019 ahead of which they will be facing a by-poll test in Bijepur in western Odisha. As the political scenario hots up Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata is widely seen as ahead of the pack. By all accounts a riveting battle seems to be on the cards.

Major parties have launched preparations for the next general elections with focus on arch rivals, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and BJP who will be facing a test of popularity before that in the bye-election to the Bijepur assembly seat that has fallen vacant following the death of Congress veteran, Subal Sahu who represented the constituency thrice in a row.

Though the seat belonged to the Congress given the party’s current state of affairs it is unlikely to pose a major challenge to either BJD or the BJP in a by-poll. The only chance that the party stands of retaining the seat is convincing either the wife or the brother of Sahu to contest on its ticket. But if sources are to be believed they are being assiduously wooed by BJD and BJP with the former more likely than the latter to succeed.

Caught in a web of internecine struggle Congress, which is technically the main opposition party in the state, is even otherwise lagging far behind BJD and BJP and is not being seen as a keen competitor either for the Bijepur by-poll or the next general elections which, more likely than not, would be a straight battle between BJP and BJD .

Having made significant gains in the last panchayat elections which saw its zila parishad tally going up in a big way the BJP is going all out to stage a comeback to power in the state 2019. Party’s national president, Amit Shah, who for all practices, is leading the BJP campaign to conquer Odisha is set to visit the state for the second time in as many months.

State BJP leaders sound enthusiastic. Brimming with confidence one of them said, “ Our national president is coming on a three-day visit. He will interact with party workers right upto the grassroots level. We are sure the visit would make a big impact and boost our prospects in the state.”

Party sources said Shah would also hold discussions  with the party’s legislative wing and stress on the need for co-operation between the legislative wing and the party’s organisational wing. He will also brief MLAs on how to take on the Naveen Patnaik government.

With Shah himself chalking out BJP’s strategy the speculation about a possible alliance with the BJD seems redundant at the moment. “ Shahji has already declared that the party aims to win 120 assembly seats, so where is the question of an alliance? We have made a good beginning with  Moo Booth Sabutharu Mazboot (My booth is the strongest booth) programme which is eliciting good response,” said a party leader.

Shah’s last visit was in July first week when he had launched the party’s Moo Booth Sabutharu Majboot programe from Ganjam, the home district of chief minister , Naveen Patnaik. That was a signal that the party was making a serious bid for power in the state.

Last month there has been another significant development—the meeting between chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and union minister of state for petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan to sort out the vexed issue of tax exemption for IOCL’s Paradip refinery project and the state’s demand for more than Rs 2700 crore from the company as  dues towards VAT exemption.

Reports suggest that the issue has been sorted out following the meeting which was held in the backdrop of an acrimonious war of words between the state and the Centre over the dispute. Within the BJD there was difference of opinion over whether the chief minister should meet Pradhan. Party vice president and agriculture minister Damodar Rout had taken exception to the meeting saying it would have been better had the state government summoned IOCL authorities and discussed with them.

However, in the event Naveen has been proved right and his decision to meet Pradhan judicious as the vexed issue has finally been thrashed out. According to sources Pradhan was of the view that though the state had extended the tax concession in 2004, there was a necessity of finding an amicable solution to the impasse keeping in view the fiscal health of the state and commercial interest of IOCL.

He had emphasized the need for finding a middle path, wherein both IOCL and the State government can work out a mutually acceptable solution by climbing down from their stated positions.  The minister had said at the meeting that the solution would lay the foundation of a new industrial ecosystem, facilitating industrialization and fiscal consolidation. “This is in keeping with the vision of Prime Minister to provide adequate resources for development and industrialization of Eastern India, including Odisha,” he had said.

The two sides had earlier engaged in a bitter war of words over the issue. The war had escalated following the state government’s withdrawal of tax concession to oil refinery on the ground that the project had started making profit.  Besides the state was also demanding Rs 2745 crore towards VAT exemption.

On the face of it chief minister, Naveen Patnaik seems to have gained in the bargain and once again proved that a lot can be achieved through patience and a strong will to resolve issues amicably. With Naveen scoring a political point against his rivals and his government launching a string of pro-people initiatives he seems to be firmly in saddle.

This makes BJD leaders supremely confident of their party scoring a big victory in the 2019 elections. “The BJP should stop  day dreaming about coming to power in the state.  When we were coalition partners they survived because of us. After the collapse of the alliance in 2009 they were reduced to a mere six seats in the state assembly. They can’t even think of matching  Naveen Babu’s popularity,” said a senior BJD leader.

The Congress, on the other hand, is in doldrums with Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) and the party’s legislative wing pulling in different directions. A majority of MLAs are campaigning for the ouster of PCC chief, Prasad Harichandan. With both sides hell bent on a showdown the All India Congress Committee recently sent a three member team of observers to the state to assess the situation. The team will submit its report to AICC vice-president, Rahul Gandhi

The rival groups in the party have trained their guns at each other with a senior leader also raising the issue of illegal mining and dropping hints that some of his own party leaders could be involved in the scandal. This is likely to further widen the divide within the party.

That being the state’s current political scenario Naveen, by any stretch of imagination, seems to be going strong and, unless circumstances change magically in favour of the opposition, should have no problem winning another term in office

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