Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik is gearing up his party for the big battle in 2019. For this, he has adopted a clever strategy which relies as much on countering the adverse propaganda of his opponents as on taking a firm stand on issues crucial to Odisha like the Mahanadi water sharing dispute and the Polavaram project.
Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president, Naveen Patnaik is gearing up his party for the big battle in 2019. The focus of his strategy is on countering the negative propaganda of BJP, his main rival, and taking firm steps to protect Odisha’s interest on major issues including Mahanadi water sharing with Chhatisgarh.
Patnaik had only recently made statements refuting the allegations of BJP president Amit Shah about the step motherly attitude of BJD government towards western Odisha. Shah had made the allegations during his visit to the region.
“Our government has never neglected western Odisha. As you can see that a number of initiatives have been taken for the overall development of the region”, the chief minister had told mediapersons.
Shah, who visited Kalahandi and Balangir districts , had made the alleged neglect of western Odisha a major issue at the youth convention in Balangir and at the farmers’ convention in Bhawanipatna. “Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi (KBK) region is the most backward region in the entire country”, he had said.
Western Odisha is the focus area for BJP, as the party is trying to improve its position in the belt in 2019 elections. Out of 10 assembly seats it has now as many eight are located in western Odisha. The party had also fared well in the region in the 2017 panchayat polls. Significantly, party’s state president Basanta Panda and legislative wing leader KV Singh Deo belong to the region.
Apart from addressing public meetings, Shah had participated in road shows en route from Bhawanipatna to Balangir. He had also dined in the house of a Dalit, Maheswar Suna in Deogaon block of Balangir district as part of his strategy to connect with people.
The BJP chief had highlighted migration and acute drinking water problems in the region. Shah had said that en route to Balangir he had visited a village where there was acute shortage of drinking water and the villagers were forced to drink fluoride mixed water. “I was shocked to see that youths of the village are in the grip of dreaded fluorosis and kidney ailments. The village is only a few kilometers away from a river. A small check dam can solve the potable water problem of the village. But Naveen Babu is sleeping”, he had said.
Stating that that migration is a worrisome issue in western Odisha the BJP chief had pointed out that “Where ever I go people tell me that the youths of their area have gone to work outside the state”.
However, BJD leaders claimed that their government has carried out a lot of developmental works in the region. “Therefore, the people have reposed faith in Naveen Patnaik, as reflected in the results of recent bypoll to Bijepur assembly constituency, which is part of western Odisha”, said BJD stalwart from the region Prasanna Acharya.
Given this backdrop the chief minister also laughed at the claim of Shah that BJP would win more than 120 seats in the state in 2019 elections. “I certainly can’t find any basis to that claim”, he said.
Another key pillar of Patnaik’s strategy to bring his party closer to the people is to instil confidence among them that his party and government would protect state’s interests on crucial issues. Hence, after coming under sharp criticism for his government’s failure to construct a second barrage over the Mahandi river even after 70 years of independence, his government has now decided to construct as many as seven barrages in the downstream of the river.
Not only the Opposition even ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s senior leader and former minister Damodar Rout had expressed his concern over state’s inability to build a second barrage over Mahanadi.
Talking to mediapersons recently about the activities of water resources department, departmental minister, Niranjan Pujari said “We are preparing a master plan to build barrages in the downstream of the Mahanadi River. Once the barrages come up, we will be able to check the draining of water to the sea.”
Secretary of the department PK Jena said “We had earlier identified five places and now another two places have been identified for the purpose. In this place, we will build barrages. These are under various stages of approval.”
Jena said “Besides constructing the barrages in the downstream of Mahanadi, we have also planned to construct 22 barrages on tributaries and distributaries of the river.
At present, the state has only one multi-purpose barrage—the Hirakud reservoir on Mahanadi. The reservoir’s water retention capacity has been reduced to a great extent due to silting. At present, its maximum water retention capacity stands at 630 feet.
After Chhattisgarh constructed as many as six barrages over Mahanadi in its upper stream, the flow of water below the Hirakud dam has been reduced to a great extent. Its impact is already being felt. The ruling BJD is also organising a Save Mahanadi campaign while a conglomerate of NGOs is building up public opinion on the river through its movement called Mahanadi Bachao Andolan. It has decided to seek an appointment with the Prime Minister.Presently the water sharing dispute on Mahanadi with neighbouring Chhattisgarh is pending before the Centre’s newly constituted Tribunal. However, the Opposition Congress and BJP said the state government was resorting to cheap political tactics to gain publicity ahead of the elections. “Its an attempt to fool the people of the coastal belt,” said senior Congress leader Jaydev Jena.
However, the chief minister remains unfazed by such criticism and determined to safeguard state’s interests not only on Mahanadi but also projects like Polavaram, a project that threatens to inundate several villages in the tribal-dominated Malkangiri district.