Of Legacy and Politics of Development


The ruling Biju Janata Dal can rightfully claim the legacy of late Biju Patnaik even as demand for the conferment of Bharat Ratna on the late leader is being raised again. Though all parties are backing the demand the ruling party is set to gain the most. At the same time chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, who inherited the political mantle of Biju Babu, continues to take other measures to strengthen his party.

Legacy politics is back in focus with the demand for Bharat Ratna to late Biju Patnaik gaining momentum once again. While the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been raising the demand eversince the death of the leader, who was twice the chief minister of the state the BJP and the Congress have also lent support to the demand now. However, the BJD, which has been named  after the leader, continues to claim his legacy as chief minister, Naveen Patnaik happens to be his son and stepped into his shoes in the wake of his death.

Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award of India and there is no doubt that if there one leader from Odisha who richly deserves this honour, it is Biju Patnaik whose claim to fame rests as much on his achievements in the field of politics as on his contribution to India’s freedom. Indonesians remain beholden to the late leader forever for his heroic role in saving their country from the clutches of Dutch colonialists. They have honoured him with their top national award.

But the Bharat Ratna award continues to elude the late leader, much to the chagrin of millions of Odias. The demand for the conferment of the country’s highest civilian award on Biju Babu, one of the architects of modern Odisha and a leader with a national vision, was reiterated recently by leaders cutting across party lines. Recalling his immense contribution not only to Odisha but also to the country’s freedom and nation building, the leaders described him as a statesman who will remain an inspiration for present and future generations.

Realizing that this has become a highly emotive issue for the people of the state, leaders of all major parties have backed the demand that was first raised in the immediate aftermath of leader’s death in 1997. His last rites at the Swargadwar in Puri were attended by the top national leaders of the time.

Born Bijayananda Patnaik, he was always an inspiration for the youth. A pioneer in the field of industry and aviation in Odisha, he set up the Kalinga Tubes and Kalinga Airlines, among his other ventures. His contribution to the popularization of science and technology through the international Kalinga Prize will always be remembered. But the question is does Biju Babu belong to BJD or does he belong to all Odias? The BJD is cleverly trying to encash the legacy of the great leader.

On the other hand chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has been trying to strengthen his party in various ways. The announcement of projects worth Rs.68 crore for the development of Pipili-Delang area by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik recently was hailed by the people of this politically sensitive belt as it promises to bring about a marked improvement in their lives with better amenities in the shape of new roads and bus stands. The package also includes construction of bridges and building of irrigation facilities. But it has been slammed by the Opposition which has seen political motives behind the announcement as it comes ahead of a by-poll in the Pipili assembly constituency.

The criticism, though, is not valid as a development package for the area was long overdue. Besides, the Election Commission is yet to announce the dates for the Pipili by-poll which will fill the vacancy caused by the death of former minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) veteran, Pradeep Maharathy. The package, in fact, is the government’s tribute to Maharathy who had nurtured the constituency for a long time. It also assures the people of Pipili that their developmental needs will be taken care of irrespective of who represents the constituency.

The opposition leaders, who are in the habit of criticizing any developmental initiative of the government, must keep in mind that Pipili has been ruling BJD’s fortress for last several decades. Maharathy, a seven-time MLA, had served his people with great dedication and turned them into firm supporters of BJD which continues to enjoy their unstinted support. From that point of view the result of the by-poll, irrespective of when it is held, is a foregone conclusion.

The Patnaik-led BJD even otherwise has a formidable electoral record. Under his leadership the party had won five back to back elections in the state which is a record in itself. The performance of the party in the Lok Sabha elections has been equally good. The BJD has also registered a string of victories in the bye-elections which is yet another proof of Patnaik’s ever growing popularity. Last year the party recorded thumping victories in the by-polls held in Balasore Sadar and Tirtol assembly constituencies. While it snatched the Balasore Sadar seat from the BJP, its victory margin in Tirtol was a matter of pride for the party.

The Opposition must remember that Patnaik’s popularity is firmly rooted in the stellar performance of his government on various fronts and his personal image as an honest politician who believes in simple living and high thinking. Patnaik’s electoral campaigns have always been refreshingly different. Instead of criticizing his opponents and engaging in verbal duels with him he has always sought votes on the performance plank because he believes in his work speaking for him. With his positive approach he has broken the stereotype of the Indian “neta” who talks more and works less. Patnaik has always talked less and worked more and thereby set an example for others. This approach of Patnaik to politics is one of the most important reasons for his party registering thumping victories in successive elections.