Controversies Galore But Naveen Unfazed

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At least two major controversies have erupted in recent days triggering a statewide furore. While massive crop damage caused by pest attacks continues to be in focus, the other debate is about the propriety of government going all out to project the chief minister on the Children’s Day; when he addressed children across the state from Bhubaneswar.

The Naveen Patnaik government is under attack from opponents on a number of issues, the most recent being massive damage to crops following pest attacks and Naveen trying to do a Modi on the Children’s Day.

The first issue also brought to focus suicide by farmers, specially the suicide of Bargarh farmer Brunda Sahu which the opposition seems to have turned into a cause celebre. The BJP was quick to pick up the issue and the war of words between the party and BJD escalated following the visit of minister of state for agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat who blamed the state government for the massive crop damage caused by pest attacks saying that it had failed to create awareness among farmers who used the wrong kind of pesticides.

His visit also coincided with chief minister, Naveen Patnaik dashed off a letter to Prime Minister seeking his intervention to make state government’s relief package for drought and pest-hit farmers effective.

Shekhawat, who visited the pest-hit areas of Bargarh, Boudh and Subarnpur districts and met the family members of Brunda Sahu, the Bargarh farmer who had committed suicide on November 1, said he was astonished to find that farmers, whose crops had been affected by brown plant hopper (BPH), locally called ‘chakada pok’, had used thimet, a pesticide which helped the proliferation of these pests instead of killing them. “This pesticide helps increase brown plant hopper pest instead of curbing them”, he said.

On the second day of his visit to the state the minister also alleged that the state government had ignored the advisory of Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI). “I have discussed with the officials of CRRI. They told me that they had issued four advisories to the state but the government ignored it,” said Shekhawat.

The minister visited the house of Brunda Sahu at Kalapani village and assured his family members including son, Rajesh of help under the “Pradhan mantri  Fasal Yojana”. Sahu had ended his life by consuming pesticides after his crop was destroyed by pest attack triggering a statewide furore.

The ruling BJD, on the other hand, mocked at Shekhawat for donning the role of a scientist and sought to know his qualification on the subject matter. On the other hand asked about Shekhawat’s meeting with the family members of Brunda Sahu, state agriculture minister, Damodar Rout remarked sarcastically that he may have gone there as they were his party members. Sahu’s daughter, Priti criticized the minister for his “insensitive” remarks.

On the other hand chief minister in his letter to the Prime Minister sought his intervention to keep the interest rate on medium term (conversion) loans at par with crop loans and extend interest incentive of 3 percent admissible on crop loans to the former. Naveen made this request pointing out that his government had decided to convert the kharif crop loans extended to the affected farmers into medium term loans as part of its relief package.

Politics also heated up over chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s relevised address to lakhs of school children across the state on Children’s Day on November 14 much in the same way as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government had made massive preparations for this with opposition accusing it of making unfair use of official machinery to boost the image of chief minister. It is the scale of the celebration that caught everyone’s attention. The school and mass education department has asked the government and government-aided schools to make arrangements for the students to listen to Patnaik’s address on the Day.

Headmasters and school management committee members had contacted villagers who own televisions fitted with set-top box to facilitate watching of Patnaik’s speech in villages.

Meetings of the school management committees had been held in schools to prepare both students and parents for the occasion.  The school and mass education department had also suggested that schools conduct debate and essay competitions on various topics such as Naveen being adjudged the best chief minister of the country recently.

Naveen’s Children’s Day coup came at a time when his party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is increasingly worried over a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party which has mounted attacks on the government’s failures in several spheres.

Like Modi, who was criticised by the opposition, Naveen is also facing flak and being accused of engaging in self propaganda. The debate topic “Proud Odisha: Our CM got best administrator award” suggested for students of Class 8 to 10 is being seen by opposition parties as a blatant attempt to politicize school education.

The BJP has been most vocal in its criticism of the chief minister. “This government has neglected the education sector which is evident from the condition of the school buildings but the chief minister wants to further his image by resorting to such gimmicks,” said a BJP leader.

On the other hand, Naveen continues to woo different sections of voters with its latest attempt being to win over the unorganized labourers. Recently the government decided to provide identity cards to this labour force to help it avail social security benefits.

Attending the first convention of Biju Shramik Samukhya Naveen said “The unorganised workers, starting from domestic helps to transport workers and vendors will be provided with identity cards. They will be covered under social security schemes. Special social security provisions will be made for women working in the unorganised sector.”

Naveen said his government was also taking steps to provide pucca houses to labourers. Last year, Naveen had announced a slew of measures for the welfare of construction of workers. The clever leader that he is all his announcements are clearly aimed at building a strong vote bank for his party ahead of 2019 elections. .” pp-nov16-30-17

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