Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, who has just won a massive mandate taking up the reins of the state for the fifth time in a row, is not one to rest on his laurels. He has already set about the task of implementing his party’s election promises seeking performance reports from his minister. This would ensure that ministers remain on their toes.
In his fifth coming as the chief minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik seems to be making all the right moves. He has made a smart beginning by asking his ministers to submit monthly performance reports on the implementation of Biju Janata Dal’s election promises.
The opposition might make fun of him describing this as a political stunt but it appears to be a good move aimed at keeping the ministers on their toes. It will ensure that they don’t become victims of complacency that often develops when a party scores an easy victory at the polls. The BJD has won 112 seats in the state assembly and thus commands a brute majority.
Even towards the end of his last term as chief minister Patnaik had sought to put the performance of his ministers under scrutiny. He reviewed the work of each department separately making the ministers and the concerned bureaucrats of the department responsible for any delays or lapses.
Such exercises have some obvious advantages. Apart from the fact that it keeps the ministers and bureaucrats attached to them on their toes it gives the government enough time for course correction. This way the government ensures that it is not caught unawares.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his ministers is important for a chief minister if he wishes to make the best possible use of his team. He can pull up ministers found wanting and reward good performers. Periodic review of the performance of ministers can come in handy for a chief minister ahead of a reshuffle or expansion. It rules out the scope for grumbling among ministers dropped on the basis of their report card.
If sources in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) are to be believed the idea of putting both ministers and party MLAs under scrutiny was first mooted by late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the bureaucrat-turned-politician who was Patnaik’s chief political advisor and strategist for a long time. Trained as an administrator he had evolved a system of assessing the performance of BJD MLAs and ministers with an eye to the long term gains of such an exercise.
One obvious advantage of this was that it inculcated a sense of discipline among party leaders including ministers. It helped Mohapatra, who practically ran the BJD on behalf of Patnaik, maintain a stranglehold over the party. The feedback on ministers and MLAs came in handy for the party leadership at the time of elections when it selected candidates. Efficient and hard working MLAs were rewarded with re-nominations while sluggards were chucked out.
The system worked quite efficaciously and BJD reaped rich electoral dividends. Though Mohapatra and Patnaik parted on a bitter note the latter still seems to be putting to use some of the lessons that he learnt from his “uncle” who had to quit the BJD in the most ignominious fashion after being accused of plotting a coup against the chief minister.
Patnaik’s bid to assess the performance of his ministers shows that he is serious about his commitments. Instead of resting on his laurels he would keep working hard to ensure that his government delivers on its promises.
The chief minister at the same time is keen to know what went wrong with his party in the Lok Sabha polls in western Odisha where all the five seats went to BJP. The clever politician that Naveen is he has taken immediate corrective measures, one of these being the inclusion of as many as six leaders from the region in his new ministry.
Among these six Padmanabh Behera, Niranjan Pujari and Susant Singh are old hands while Nab Kishore Das, Tukuni Sahu and Captain Dibya Shankar Mishra have made the cut for the first time. Five of them have been made cabinet ministers.
The choice of ministers sends out a strong message to the electorate in the western part of the state that the government cares for them and is keen to accelerate the area’s growth.
The fact that BJD lost all the five Lok Sabha seats in western Odisha to Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), its main rival in the state, has hurt the party. More so because chief minister, Naveen Patnaik had himself entered the assembly fray from Bijepur, one of the key seats in this region.
Patnaik’s decision to contest from Bijepur alongwith his traditional seat of Hinjli was a strategic move aimed at boosting his party’s prospects in western Odisha where it was expecting a stiff challenge from BJP which had successfully built up an anti-government movement on issues like farmer suicides and delay in the establishment of a separate High Court bench in the region.
In the event, however, BJD lost the prestigious Bargarh Lok Sabha seat even though chief minister won from the Bijepur assembly segment of the constituency with relative ease. The ruling party’s plan, thus, failed to materialize as far as western Odisha’s Lok Sabha seats are concerned with all the five—Bargarh, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Sundergarh—falling into BJP’s kitty.
There are several reasons for BJP’s Lok Sabha debacle in the region, most important of these being the phenomenon of split voting witnessed in the state on this scale perhaps for the first time. With a perceptive under-current in favour of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in this belt, large chunks of the electorate voted in favour of BJP candidates in the Lok Sabha while continuing to show their preference for chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and his party in the state assembly.
But there were also other factors like a general feeling of neglect among the electorate who have had a long grouse against the leaders of the coastal region who, they think, have deliberately conspired to keep western Odisha backward. This feeling stems from lop-sided growth of the state which is heavily tilted in favour of coastal districts.
Regional imbalance spawns regional hatred and results in separatist slogans like the demand for a separate Koshal state by a section of people in western Odisha. Though fortunately for the government this demand is yet to receive mass endorsement, the signs are ominous. The government would do better to take immediate corrective steps and redresses the balance of development in the state. For the chief minister that seems to be the right strategy to adopt if he wants to curb BJP’s growth in western Odisha.