Controversies notwithstanding chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s popularity continues to grow as he seems to be making the right moves ahead of the general elections. He has kept all sections of people including journalists happy. His welfare schemes are doing extremely well. Given this backdrop the opposition finds denting his popularity well nigh impossible.
Several controversies have erupted round the state government in the past one month with opposition parties, mainly the BJP and the Congress, trying to cash in on them. From the missing keys of Puri Jagannath temple’s Ratna Bhandar to Kendrapara MP, Baijayant Panda’s resignation the opposition has sought to encash on every issue as it seeks to build up the right momentum ahead of the general elections.
However, unfazed by all this chief minister, Naveen Patnaik appears to be making the right moves with an eye on the general elections that will be held early next years, that if they are not advanced. Naveen being an astute politician he has taken a number of clever initiatives to keep all sections of people including journalists happy. He has announced sops for journalists who had been clamouring for pension and insurance coverage.
He has also revived the proposal for setting up a legislative council which will make the state legislature bi-cameral and add to his political flexibility. The move will provide him more options in rehabilitating disgruntled leaders of his party and also help bring in new talent.
The legislators’ committee, which has been set up by the state assembly to examine the feasibility of having a legislative council in the state, will visit Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and submit its report to the government.
The committee which was constituted in 2015 has been reactivated with Patnaik asking it to visit the two states and place its report. The Congress and BJP had earlier boycotted the committee headed by Commerce and Transport minister Nrushingha Sahu.
The logic behind the move is that as legislative councils in states like Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Utter Pradesh have helped accommodate people excelling in different fields in the legislature raising the standard of debates and facilitating formulation of important policies, the same could happen in the case of Odisha.
“In Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, they had first Assembly and then Legislative Council. We also have an Assembly and are now proposing a Legislative Council. So these two States (Bihar and Andhra) need to be studied,” said a senior ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader.
Political observers are of the view that the BJD government is reviving the proposal once again after three and a half years to keep the party leaders united in the election year. “Many of the sitting MLAs are not likely to get the tickets this time. They will be kept in good humour with the assurance of a council seat. This will help curb dissidence,” said a senior leader.
Congress and BJP have alleged that revival of the council proposal was a move to rehabilitate the ruling party leaders. “It was mooted in 2015 but the government remained quiet. Now it is being revived to rehabilitate MLAs who may not get tickets next time,” said a Congress leader. A senior BJP leader said that the government had floated the proposal to keep the dissidents happy but was not serious about it. However, countering the charge a BJD leader cautioned against politicizing the issue. “The government initiated the proposal in 2015 to set up the council. It is good for the state,” he said.
In December 2014, government had announced to set up a legislative council in an apparent bid to accommodate some senior party leaders who had lost the 2014 elections. Subsequently, a five-member team comprising three members from BJD and one each from the Congress and the BJP was formed on January 7, 2015.
The ruling party members were – Nrusingha Sahu, Pramila Mallik and Manohor Randhari. From the Congress, Bhubala Majhi was drafted and Nitesh Gangdev was included from the BJP. The committee was to look into the modalities and study the pattern of working style of the councils in other states. Later it visited Maharashtra and Karnataka. But for the last three years the proposal was in the cold storage.
Sources said if the council comes into existence it will have 49 members, that is one third of the total strength of the 147-member state assembly. The legislative council could play the constitutional role of maintaining checks and balances to perfection. “It can delay a bill for three months which will force the state government to give it a second thought and make necessary amendments. The legislative council will also provide a platform to generate debate on important issues,” said an official.
More important, however, is the fact that it will act as a formidable weapon in the hands of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik affording him flexibility in dealing with dissidents and disgruntled leaders. This is important at a time when the BJP, the main rival of BJD in the state, is eager to cash in on the success of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Cuttack rally.
The state BJP has decided to intensify its mass outreach programme to establish the right ‘connect’ with the people ahead of the next general elections. Sources said that the party has asked cadres to fan out to all parts of the state to take the success stories of BJP-led NDA government to the people as part of its “Mahasampark Abhiyan” which began on May 26, the day Modi completed his four years in office.
Sources said with both Prime Minister and BJP president, Amit Shah focusing on Odisha the party has begun to fancy its chances in the state where presently it has only 10 MLAs. “Success in elections is all about positioning yourself advantageously vis-à-vis your opponents. For this it is important to have a head start over them in terms of pre-election campaign as well. Right now we are concentrating on that,” said a senior BJP leader pointing out that Mahasampark Abhiyan was preceded by the party’s Gram Swaraj campaign during which people, especially in the rural areas, were made aware of Modi government’s village-specific initiatives.
However, the BJD leaders remain unfazed, confident as they are that the BJP is unlikely to make any significant dent in the popularity of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik who continues to rise in the public eye. “We have withstood many opposition onslaughts in the past and will weather this one as well. We know we are ahead of them,” averred a BJD leader.