Odisha Politics In A Fluid State


The BJD is not as strong as it once was and BJP seems to be making fast gains though it is still far from power in the state. While the BJP seems to be capitalizing on the decline of the Congress, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has taken some important steps to refurbish the image of his government and party.

Bhubaneswar: State politics is in a fluid state with chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, rattled by the results of recent panchayat elections, trying to shore up his party’s image while the a resurgent BJP is looking to capture the opposition space vacated by the Congress which, though the main opposition party on pen and paper, is actually a marginalized political force at the moment.

Patnaik’s first move was to effect a ministry reshuffle, dropping some young ministers and drafting them in for organizational work. He inducted some new and some old faces imparting his ministry a new look and making it balanced. Patnaik also took a strong view of his party leaders speaking out of turn and airing their views on party issues publicly.

The man in the eye of the storm was Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Kendrapara MP, party’s intellectual face, Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda who was attacked with eggs at an event in his own constituency allegedly by the followers of a minister. His tweets also invited trouble for him with chief minister taking a strong view of them.

There were more efforts to refurbish the image of the party and the government with Patnaik issuing a stern warning to district collectors to check the PC (percentage) culture. He also asked them to take bold decisions. “Any bold decision taken for people-centric governance will have my full support”, he said at the end of the three-day collectors’ conference held in the state capital.

The direction assumes significance as the government is gearing up to face the urban polls next year and the general elections in 2019. However, district collectors will not find it easy to implement it given the political pressure from ruling BJD leaders.

At the same time, in order to retain the confidence of people, Naveen reiterated his government’s policy of  “zero tolerance” towards corruption in all spheres public life. “In our resolve to fight corruption and to ensure last mile delivery we have put in place transparent structures and processes in the functioning of the government”, he said.

Patnaik, who has been in power for four consecutive terms, has recently enunciated a 3-T formula (transparency, team work and technology).

On the inaugural day of the conference, he had made it clear that the 3-Ts would be his focus for good governance. Today he added another T (transparency) to his 3-T formula. “The three Ts must lead to the fourth T that is transformation in the lives of the people of Odisha”, he said in his concluding speech.

However, Naveen has invited criticism from the Opposition parties for his call to the bureaucrats to end percentage (corruption) system in the administration at the grassroots level.

“The chief minister has admitted about corruption prevailing in the administration. We had been telling that this government is neck-deep in corruption which has been vindicated by the chief minister’s call”, said State Congress chief Prasad Harichandan adding that large-scale corruption was taking place under the very nose of the chief minister. “Who will stop the white collar corruption in the state secretariat”, he asked.

Earlier, union minister of state for petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan had demanded a white paper on the “percentage” system at all levels of administration.

Focusing on better public service delivery, the state government had also sought suggestions from the district collectors and also from the public on 10 identified focus areas including urban service and health care. Naming 13 “brilliant suggestions” received from the working group formed during the conference, the chief minister said these groups would continue to function for the next six months as resource groups on the identified topics. “I will be reviewing in three months the progress made and the changes brought about in the identified sectors”, the chief minister said.

The suggestions included obtaining citizens’ feedback on municipal services through apps, display of drainage maintenance schedule, establishment of municipal service centers, easy and multiple points/modes for payment and self-declaration for assessment of taxes.

Similarly, working groups suggested public display of priority list of eligible beneficiaries under the rural housing scheme, setting up of dedicated rural housing cells at the district and block level, reorganization of primary agriculture cooperative societies as single point delivery centers for farmers. Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi advised the collectors to open official Face book and Twitter accounts at the district level and keep responsible officers in charge of quickly responding to the issues and grievances raised by the people.

They were also asked to follow chief minister’s Face book and twitter accounts through their official accounts. Collectors were further advised to form whatsapp groups involving district level officers for immediate resolution of the issues and redressal of the grievances.

All this in a bid to improve the image of the government and to strengthen the BJD which seems to be facing a serious threat from the BJP for the first time. The BJP, enthused and encouraged by its spectacular performance in the panchayat polls, has launched the exercise to shore up its organization right upto the booth level. Since the state figures prominently in BJP’s plans for 2019 party president, Amit Shah is paying special attention to it. He would soon be visiting Odisha and holding programmes in Ganjam district, the home turf of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik.

What has given the BJP an edge is the fact that Congress in Odisha appears to be in the self destruct mode with the rift between Pradesh Congress Committee and the party’s legislature wing widening with each passing day. The BJP, practically speaking, has already grabbed the political space vacated by the Congress which has all but lost its main opposition party tag. That being the scenario political developments in the coming days would be keenly watched.