Confident Naveen Unlikely to Do a Nitish

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With JD (U) veteran, Nitish Kumar being sworn as Bihar chief minister at the head of a coalition government with BJP there is speculation about a possible change in chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s policy of equidistance from BJP and Congress ahead of 2019 elections. But while political observers do not rule out the possibility of Patnaik joining hands with BJP again, the ground reality in Odisha would make it seem like wishful thinking.

Will Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik do a Nitish Kumar? The question is being asked in the state’s political circles ever since dramatic developments in Bihar led to the collapse of the Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan) and drove Nitish back into the lap of National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Nitish’s former allies turned foes have sought to pillory him for what they describe as an act of political treachery. The man, who recently took oath as the chief minister of Bihar for the sixth time with BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi as his deputy is also facing the prospects of a minor rebellion within his party – Janata Dal (United) with stalwart, Sharad Yadav flashing a mailed fist.

But Nitish remains unfazed and continues to justify his move which is widely seen as a triumph of political expediency over principles. The Bihar political opera has sparked off speculation about the possibility of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, who will be seeking a record fifth term as the chief minister of Odisha in 2019, realigning with the BJP, the party he had dumped in 2009 after running an alliance government in the state for over nine years.

But as things stand today the possibility of such a scenario emerging in Odisha appears remote, the most important reason for this being the fact that Naveen is much better placed politically than Nitish who, had the BJP not come to his rescue, would have been reduced into a minority. In contrast Naveen enjoys a brute majority in the state assembly. He can and is running the government on his own strength.

There is no doubt that the BJP has grown stronger in the state over the past one year as the results of the last panchayat elections would indicate. The saffron outfit which has a mere ten MLAs in the state assembly against 117 of the ruling Biju Janata Dal(BJD), won 297 zila parishad seats in the rural polls held in February. This was a big big leap for the party which had bagged just 36 ZP seats in the 2012 panchayat elections.

The BJP thinks it is on the comeback, its hopes resting mainly on its panchayat performance and the increasing marginalisation of Congress as a political force in Odisha. Hence it has decided to take on the BJD on major issues with both parties currently engaged in a war of words over the issue of poll expenses of their leaders. While the BJP has sought to bring chief minister’s poll expense accounts for 2014 elections under the scanner the BJD has brought similar charges against union minister, Jual Oram.

It is significant to note that the BJP is for the first time attacking the chief minister directly. Oram himself has raised the stakes by offering to resign if the charges against him were proved true and asked Naveen to do the same in case he is proved guilty.

The BJD leaders, however, see this as a desperate attempt by the BJP to besmirch Naveen’s reputation ahead of 2019 elections. “ They are making baseless allegations hoping that if they repeat a lie one hundred it will become the truth. But people will see through their game,” said a senior BJD leader.

However, what is clear is that with Congress getting progressively reduced into a rump party the 2019 elections would be a battle between BJD and BJP. The latter was the first to chalk out its strategy for the 2019 polls at its national executive held in Bhubaneswar in  April.

It was followed up with BJP president, Amit Shah’s visit to the state in July as part of party’s “ mo booth sabuthu mazboot ( my booth is the strongest)” programme. Making it clear that it was going to be an all out war Shah threw a challenge to chief minister, Naveen Patnaik by holding public meetings in Ganjam, the home district of Patnaik.  The BJD has responded by coming up with programmes such as Ama Gaon Ama Vikas ( our village our development) and organizing training camps for block level party leaders to make them ready for 2019 elections.

The rivalry between the two sides that had reached a flashpoint February last year when BJD and BJP workers clashed at Paradip during the dedication of Paradip oil refinery to the nation by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi took a turn for the worse when BJP leaders boycotted the inaugural ceremony of the 22nd Asian Athletics Championship, a showcase event hosted by Odisha for the first time, on July 5 lock stock and barrel.

Political observers think that the war is going to get messier but the BJD is still miles ahead of BJP mainly because of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s public image and the welfare initiatives of his government. “The BJP seems to be going overboard with its performance in the panchayat polls but it would be deluding itself by attacking too much importance to those results,” said a political analyst.

Meanwhile, ahead of the urban elections next year, the state government is likely to announce major sops such as bestowing ownership rights of land (land pattas) on slum dwellers. Earlier, the state government had announced apartments for slum dwellers.

The government has also decided to take up the overall development of the urban local bodies under the UNNATI scheme.  “ The urban election in 2018 will be the semi final before the final match in 2019.  So the government is pulling out all stops to win over the voters,” said an analyst.

Besides to promote energy efficiency in the state, the government has also entered into an MoU with Energy Efficiency Services Limited (ESSL) with focus on the implementation of street light national programme in 107 ULBs. The combined impact of the government’s initiatives could help the state achieve energy savings to the tune of nearly 35.97 million Kwh annually.

Naveen also asked all the urban bodies to use the social media extensively. He also launched the “Mo Pride” online software monitoring tools for the urban local bodies. On July 14, he had announced “Ama sahar, ama unnati” (our town, our development) programme and asked  his partymen to go to the people in every ward and every slum with the message of successful implementation of various welfare and development schemes by his government and counter the “misinformation” campaign of the opposition parties.

Such initiatives are certain to keep Naveen ahead of his rivals. As his party gears up for the big battle in 2019 he should not unduly worry about anti-incumbency factor which he had defeated even last time.

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