Guarding State’s Interest


Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s one-point formula seems to be doing his best to protect the interests of his state and his party. This ensures that he retains the support of people who are so crucial to his politics. The developments of the last few weeks as a tribute to his politics of pragmatism.


Amidst hectic political developments in the last few weeks chief minister, Naveen Patnaik kept steady as far as his goals were concerned. He kept his party leaders ready to pounce upon any opportunity of not only securing the interests of Odisha but extracting as much as possible from the Centre.No wonder even before the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (now an act) was introduced in the Parliament Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MPs had discussed with the top leaders of BJP the necessity of parliament approving the formation of a legislative council in Odisha. A council has many political advantages and Patnaik is keenly aware of that. His MPs even had a meeting with union home minister and Modi’s right hand man, Amit Shah.
Everyone knew that BJD will be supporting the Bill that aims to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and was slammed by the Opposition which questioned it on secular grounds as it discriminates in the matter of granting citizenship on the basis of religion.Irrespective of the fact that apologists of the Bill sought to describe it as a case of “ positive”   discrimination necessary to protect the interests of the persecuted minorities in the countries mentioned above there was no denying the religious tilt of this crucial piece of legislation.
All this should have made BJD, which had ended its 11-year-old alliance with the Bhartiya Janata party (BJP) in Odisha in 2009 apparently to protect its secular image, wary of supporting the Bill. But it went ahead with it because the interest of the party as well as state was involved.
Interestingly, even when the BJD-BJP alliance broke in 2009 with Naveen Patnaik’s party accusing its coalition partner of siding with communal forces, an apparent reference to the role of Hindutva outfits in the Kandhmal riots of 2008, there were many who felt that the BJD was only making a show of being secular. The party, in any case, wanted to get rid of BJP as a partner in government as the alliance had already served its purpose of establishing Patnaik as the state’s undisputed  leader.
Besides, the BJP which was seen as piggy-riding the BJD, was becoming more and more demanding. Kandhmal riots gave Patnaik a convenient excuse to dump the saffron party which had turned into a political liability.
The new-found friendship between Patnaik and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is fresh proof that for BJD’s supreme leader political expediency invariably takes precedence over princples. Keenly aware that his cash-strapped government cannot keep many of its politically crucial welfare schemes going without generous financial assistance from the Centre he has in the last few months extended support to the BJP-led NDA on many important issues, all in the name of safeguarding either national interest or the interests of the state.
His avowed policy of equidistance from BJP and Congress is a classic example of political expediency. It is being described as ‘pragmatic flexibility’ which suits the ends of Patnaik. There have been some other interesting developments in the meanwhile, one of these was Santhali, the language spoken by India’s largest tribal community spread across Odisha, Bihar, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, finding an articulate voice in the Rajya Sabha courtesy Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member, Sarojini Hembram. This was the first time the language was spoken in the House of Elders.
That the person through whom the language debuted in the Rajya Sabha happens to be a lawmaker from Odisha was a matter of pride for all Odias and especially for the BJD as she belongs to the party which has tried to milk it fully. She also demanded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, for  Pandit  Raghunath Murmu, the father of Ol Chiki script that is the foundation of Santhali language.
The issue is Odisha’s cultural diversity which has a lot to do with its tribal profile. The state is home to 62 different tribal communities including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal (PVT) groups. Between them these tribal groups speak 21 languages and 74 dialects. But the dominance of Odia, Hindi and English, the languages most widely spoken, poses a threat to the tribal dialects many of which are on the verge of extinction.
To be fair to the state government it has been doing its bit to preserve this unique linguo-cultural heritage. Among other things, it has come up with bilingual tribal dictionaries that can be used for multilingual education at the elementary level in tribal-dominated districts. The move, it is understood, is being sought to be enforced through the special development councils (SDCs) constituted for state’s nine tribal-dominated districts, namely Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Kandhamal, Koraput, Gajapati, Rayagada, Nabarangpur and Malkangiri.
Yet another development has been the fall in the price of onions which had practically become out of reach for ordinary people. Prices , incidentally,  started falling after state supply minister had a meeting with union consumer welfare minister, Ram Vilas Paswan. Now BJD will take credit for that.
The truth, however, is that Odisha government cannot hide behind excuses having claimed earlier that the state was onion surplus. If it was surplus then why the crisis? This  apart  farmers in the state’s onion growing belt have been complaining about lack of government support, especially the acute shortage of cold storages for preserving the crop.  One would recall that in 2015 the then agriculture minister, Pradeep Maharathy had assured to set up 300 cold storages in a bid to bring down the prices of onions. But nothing seems to have happened.
Nonetheless the chief minister should get credit for handling the situation nicely and averting what could have been a major political crisis. Full marks to him on the political front.