Gearing Up For the Poll Battle



Politics in the state is heating up with major parties stepping up preparations for the 2019 battle. But it now more or less clear that elections in the state will be a duel between BJP and BJD. This is evident from repeated Odisha visit of top BJP leaders and the willingness of Naveen Patnaik to take on his erstwhile ally.

With elections round the corner politics in the state is heating up. The contours of the 2019 battle are also slowly becoming clear. By all indications it is going to be Biju Janata Dal (BJD) versus the BJP.

This despite the fact that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi during his one-day visit to the state on December 24 refrained from criticizing chief minister, Naveen Patnaik directly with some political analysts interpreting it as an indication that the BJP, which recently suffered serious jolts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, considers Naveen to be a potential ally.

Significantly Modi’s visit, during which he addressed a public meeting and also inaugurated several projects, took place within days of Naveen’s meeting with Telengana chief minister, K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) at Naveen Nivas where the two leaders discussed the broad contours of a federal front of regional parties to challenge NDA and UPA.

Though Modi did talk about corruption and lack of efficiency in the state he did not name the chief minister or his party directly. Like a clever politician he was at best hinting at the state’s problems in a broader way.

The Prime Minister, who virtually launched the BJP campaign in Odisha for the 2019 polls, issued a call for building a new Odisha with new energy. Addressing the public meeting at the NISER stadium near Khurda, he said, “We will change  Odisha’s  destiny  and take it on the path of progress towards a new future.”

Modi, in his address, exposed infrastructure deficiencies in health, education and other sectors and state’s failure to provide drinking water, irrigation facilities to the farmers. He also cited issues of malnourishment among children, migration, chit fund scam but he never once attacked the chief minister directly aware of Naveen’s clean image and that he can be a future ally.

His focus, however, was firmly on the development agenda of NDA Government as he listed out the schemes and programmes launched by the Centre since 2014.

Earlier, he dedicated IIT, Bhubaneswar to the nation for which Rs 1270 crore has been spent. He also laid foundation stones for projects worth over Rs 14,000 cr and said his government is fully committed to Odisha’s overall development.

“Several projects have been launched for the development of Odisha and I assure you
that this work will continue in future,” Modi said as he inaugurated the new and sprawling campus of IIT Bhubaneswar at Arugul on the outskirts of the Capital built at a huge cost in an area of 936 acres. “This institute will not only produce high quality engineers and entrepreneurs for the nation and the world but will pave way for Odisha’s progress,” he said adding that the institute will prove to be a centre of dreams for Odisha’s youth and provide employment to many.

The Prime Minister also dedicated a postage stamp and a commemorative coin of Rs 200 featuring the historic Paika Rebellion (1817) against the British rule on the occasion of its bicentenary celebration. He also inaugurated the Buxi Jagabandhu Chair at Utkal University in memory of the Paika Rebellion, laid foundation stone of a permanent campus of Indian Institute of Science and Education Research (IISER) in Berhampur.

Modi also laid foundation stone of a gas pipeline from Paradip to Hyderabad at a projected cost of Rs 3,800 crore and another from Angul to Bokaro in Jharkhand at a cost of Rs 3,437 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganja Yojana. The PM inaugurated the new 100-bed ESI Hospital in Bhubaneswar and laid foundation stone for construction of six lanes of the National Highway-16  and four lanes of NH-4 between Cuttack and Angul.

During the visit the Prime Minister was as much in focus as chief minister, Naveen Patnaik who conducted himself with great dignity. Naveen had played his trump card ahead of the visit by announcing the ‘Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation’ (KALIA) scheme for the benefit of farmers whose problems are engaging the attention of governments across the country.

Speaking to reporters, the Chief Minister said, “To further accelerate agricultural prosperity in the state and to reduce poverty, the state Cabinet has  approved the historic KALIA scheme, amounting to over Rs.10,000 crore.”

KALIA scheme aims to cover 92 per cent of the state’s cultivators, loanees, as well as non-loanee farmers, sharecroppers and landless agricultural labourers. It aims at specifically taking care of vulnerable agricultural families identified through GPs and crop loans are made available to the beneficiaries at 0 per cent interest, he said.

He further said, “KALIA is progressive, inclusive and will make a direct attack on poverty by way of massive investment in this sector and making benefits reach the needy through direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode.”

Stating that five components of the scheme will benefit all small and marginal farmers (over 30 lakh), he said `10,000 per family at the rate of `5,000 each for Kharif and Rabi seasons shall be provided as assistance for taking up cultivation. This aid is for five cropping seasons spanning three years from 2018-19 to 2021-22, the Chief Minister said, adding, “This will cover 92 per cent of cultivators of the state. It will also benefit share croppers/ actual cultivators most of whom own very little extent of land.”

Under the second component, livelihood support for landless households, the government has decided to provide Rs.12,500 to 10 lakh landless households to take up livelihood support activities like goat rearing units, mini layer units, duckery units, fishery kits, mushroom cultivation and bee keeping.

“The landless households will have the option of selecting any of the units. Among others, this will particularly benefit SC and ST households. An amount of Rs 1250 crore will be utilised in three years,” Naveen said.

Similarly, an annual financial assistance of Rs 10,000 per household will be provided to take care of sustenance of those farmers who may not be able to take up cultivation or avail livelihood options due to old-age, disability, disease or other reasons. The landless farm labourers can also avail the benefits.

Thus BJP and BJD are gearing up for the battle in a big way. With Congress unable to get its act together it is now almost clear that 2019 will be a duel between BJP and BJD.