Despite failures, Patnaik sitting pretty in Orissa

Throughout the year, Patnaik and his colleagues, both within the government as well as in the party, had to remain on the backfoot as the opposition missed no opportunity to corner the government on various important issues like the scam in the mining sector, the law and order situation, particularly the naxal menace, and the spurt in the farmers’ suicide cases.

Patnaik was sworn in as chief minister for a record third time in a row in May last year after BJD won the simultaneously-held Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in a spectacular fashion defeating its former ally the BJP and the principal opposition party, the Congress.

However, after just two months in office, the government was already on a sticky wicket over the mining scam. The chief minister ordered an inquiry into it by the vigilance and crime branch of the state police. The opposition rejected the government’s announcement for a vigilance inquiry and insisted on a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, stating that there was need for an independent probe into the scam because of the reported involvement of some of the ruling party members, including ministers and the chief minister in it.

A major issue

The mining scam continues to be a major issue in the state. What has turned out to be a shot in the arm for the opposition parties was the recent reported findings of the central empowered committee confirming the mining scam.

Similarly, the naxal violence in the state has gone up considerably during the last one year much to the embarrassment of the government. Orissa, in fact, has become the second worst naxal affected state in the country after Chhattisgarh.

The increasing naxal activities in the state has provided an opportunity to the opposition to charge the Patnaik administration of losing its control over the situation despite support from the Centre at regular intervals.

If one were to go by an estimate made by non-governmental organisations and activists, during the last one year nearly 60 farmers have committed suicide in different parts of the state because of crop loss and loan burden. The state government has been unable to explain or reverse the situation.

The problem relating to land acquisition for private sector industrial projects backed by the government and repeated violence, the clashes between the police and the locals who would be affected by the projects, have also become a major headache for the Patnaik government.

Significantly, the relationship between the ruling BJD and its two new left allies, the CPI and the CPM — the three parties had fought the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the state from the same platform — saw going sour during the year over the government’s decision to stick to its industrial policy.

Despite all these factors, however, Patnaik continues to be the most popular leader in the state. A national TV news channel while conducting a survey at the end of the first year of UPA-II government recently had pronounced Naveen Patnaik as the second most popular chief minister in the country, just a point behind his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi who had captured the first position.

The survey also indicated that in the event of fresh Lok Sabha elections immediately, the BJD would repeat its last election’s performance in Orissa, which means the regional outfit’s popular base is yet to be eroded despite the state government’s lacklustre performance in the last one year.

It could be attributed to one major factor — the opposition Congress and BJP’s failure to project personalities who can match Patnaik’s leadership and charisma. The Congress continues to be a divided house and the BJP is still finding it difficult to convince people about its opposition status after remaining an ally of the BJD and sharing power with it in the state for nearly a decade.

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