“Naveen Odisha” May Shift Focus From Biju Legacy

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The use of the slogan Naveen Odisha for the first time indicates a strategic shift within the BJD. This is also a measure of chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s growing self-confidence. His party may no longer have to rely excessively on the political legacy of his father. He has himself turned into Odisha’s most successful political brand.

Odisha’s ruling party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), was named after Biju Patnaik, father of chief minister Naveen Patnaik and one of the most charismatic leaders of the state. Ever since the party came into existence in 1997 following Biju Babu’s demise, it has relied heavily on the late leader’s legacy for electoral success. In fact, Biju legacy has been a popular catchphrase in BJD circles and Naveen, who also happens to be the president of the party, has himself been invoking it every now and then.

But now there are clear signs of BJD making a switch from Biju to Naveen legacy. This is also an indication of Naveen’s growing popularity and his rising self-confidence. The legacy shift was evident in the letter written by Naveen to the party functionaries ahead of the 107th birth anniversary of Biju Babu who was also the chief minister of the state twice. The letter, asking party cadres to prepare for the March 5 anniversary of the late leader, used the slogan “Naveen Odisha” or new Odisha for the first time.

This was the first instance of Naveen, who has been ruling the state uninterrupted for over two decades now, using his name in a campaign. The letter, dated February 27, called upon BJD workers across the state to take a pledge to work towards a prosperous and empowered “Naveen Odisha”. It also said that party members would resolve to be disciplined, strengthen party unity, serve the people of Odisha and achieve the state’s interests.

It is a well-known fact that Naveen made a hesitant entry into politics upon the death of his father. The formation of BJD and its subsequent alliance with the BJP were seen as developments born out of political compulsion. The alliance, at best, was a marriage of convenience.

Since BJD was not the product of a political movement it had to rely heavily on Biju legacy to capture power and then sustain itself in power. Ever since the BJD came to power in 2000 most of its slogans have been centered around Biju Babu. The party government also named over a dozen schemes after the former chief minister.

Hence the new slogan of Naveen Odisha holds a special significance. This is about the branding of chief minister Naveen Patnaik as the infallible mascot of BJD which may no longer have to rely excessively on his father’s name and charisma for success. This is also a measure of Naveen’s rising popularity and his growing self-confidence.

This has not happened overnight. Naveen has built up his public image assiduously by launching a raft of pro-poor schemes and declaring a war against corruption. While his poverty alleviation schemes like rice for Rs.1 per kg and meals for Rs.5 under the Aahar scheme have been a hit, the KALIA scheme that provides incentives to farmers has also earned him a lot of goodwill. These schemes have given his government a pro-people image and raised the profile of Odisha at the national level.

Naveen has won over the youth of the state by promoting sporting activities in the state which has the rare distinction of organising Men’s World Cup Hockey twice in a row. Odisha’s sponsorship of men and women national hockey teams also brought the state into international focus.

On the cultural front he has been striving hard to protect and promote Odisha’s cultural diversity with special attention to its tribal heritage. While schemes have been launched exclusively for economic and social development of tribal communities there is also an effort to promote tribal languages like Santhali.

Through the Mission Shakti department, the government has been relentlessly trying to empower women, especially poor women by providing them livelihood options. The department caters to the needs of nearly 70 lakh women organized under women collectives or self-help groups (SHGs). This has helped Naveen create a special women constituency for his party. Members of the fair sex have been voting for his party faithfully in the elections.

BJD’s arch rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been unsuccessfully trying to dent the shining public image of the chief minister. When Sambalpur MLA Jayanarayan Mishra became the BJP legislature party leader there was widespread speculation that his aggressive brand of politics would help the BJP make inroads into BJD citadels and upset Naveen’s plans of further strengthening his party. But nothing of the kind has happened.

In fact, Naveen’s popularity has grown further with the launch of innovative administrative schemes like Mo Sarkar which is an attempt to bring the government closer to the people and make the working of various departments more transparent. Similarly, he has sought to accelerate the development of comparatively backward western Odisha districts by strengthening the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC), a body presently headed by former chief secretary AsitTripathy who is also an advisor to the chief minister.

Western Odisha is generally considered to be the stronghold of BJP which bagged all the five Lok Sabha seats in this region in 2019. However, this happened primarily on account of what political observers have described as split voting, a phenomenon that was clearly visible in the state in the last elections. While the BJP did comparatively better in the Lok Sabha polls the assembly, contest was almost one-sided with BJD romping home with 112 out of the 147 seats at stake. The BJP could win only 23 but still managed to emerge as the main opposition party in the state.

Ever since, however, BJP’s hold on the region has slackened which was evident from the results of last panchayat elections. The BJD almost swept the polls with a slight change in its strategy. It also took advantage of the sterling image of chief minister Naveen Patnaik which remains the trump card of the party.

No wonder then that the BJD is now talking in terms of Naveen Odisha. The slogan is likely to strike a chord with the masses and may help the party win the 2024 polls.

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