Special status, package for Odisha

The Centre’s recent decision to sanction a special financial package for Bihar has provided an opportunity to the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha to launch a scathing attack against the UPA, particularly the Congress, on the sensitive issue of the Centre’s negligence towards the state. The development has also prompted the Naveen Patnaik led regional outfit to bring to the fore the state’s long standing demand — the special category status for Odisha.

The aggressive manner in which the BJD has raked up both the issues in public has made many political analysts to believe that Patnaik is all set to make the twin issues a major poll plank in the coming elections. Before the next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, the political parties in Odisha would pass through another acid test — the elections to the local urban bodies which will be contested on party basis.

The BJD had recently organised a 12 hour ‘hartal’ across the state protesting the Centre’s ‘repeated neglect’ of Odisha. The party has decided to collect one crore signatures from the people in different districts demanding the special category status as well as a Bihar like special financial assistance. 

The memorandum carrying the one crore signatures will be submitted to president Pranab Mukherjee. The signature collection campaign was recently flagged off in the state capital Bhubaneswar by chief minister Patnaik in the presence of senior party leaders as well as well-known personalities from other fields including veteran freedom fighters, popular artistes from the Odia film industry as well as sports celebrities.  The BJD leaders allege that the UPA government’s decision to sanction special financial package to Bihar was aimed at gaining political benefits.

For political purpose

Taking advantage of the situation, the Congress has now begun an effort to woo the JD(U) and the financial package was part of that, the BJD leaders maintain adding that the Congress is also hopeful of Nitish Kumar-Sharad Yadav led party bailing out the UPA government in New Delhi in case there is a crisis. “The Bihar financial package was certainly announced for political purposes. It was sanctioned from a public fund. How can the UPA government use public money for its own political benefits? It is illegal and against the Indian constitution”, several BJD leaders were heard thundering during a day long dharna recently organised by the party in front of the Governor’s house.

On the issue of granting special category status to the state, the BJD leaders insist that the Centre had never heeded to Odisha’s long standing demand though it had taken up the issue with the Centre as many as eleven times since it came to power in the year 2000. The Odisha Assembly had recently adopted a unanimous resolution in this regard.
The leaders of the state unit of the Congress, however, have strongly rejected all the allegations made by the BJD. They also describe the recent anti-Centre protest programmes organised by the BJD as ‘political gimmicks’ aimed at hiding the state government’s own failures. However, realising that the BJD’s aggressive anti-Congress and anti-Centre stand could push them to a trouble spot, a number of senior state Congress leaders led by PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik and leader of the opposition in the Assembly, Bhupinder Singh visited New Delhi just a few days back and met prime minister Manmohan Singh as well as finance minister P Chidambaram. They were submitting memoranda to both of them requesting grant of special category status to Odisha.   

The party is also contemplating its own programmes across the state to counter BJD’s attack against the Congress and the Central government. This has further strengthened the observers’ belief that the twin issues of central negligence and special category status would occupy the centre stage during the coming elections in the state.

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