BJP-BJD blow hot and cold in Odisha as 'Fani' stings

Last Updated 30 December 2019, 06:44 IST

Political equations oscillated between the ruling BJD in Odisha and principal opposition BJP in an election year that also brought with it the vagaries of nature, as a mighty cyclone left scores dead and lakhs marooned.

Odisha was witness to a bitter BJD-BJP poll rivalry during the assembly poll, held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election, followed by a bonhomie that set off murmurs of 'Naveen-Modi Bhai-Bhai' from the opposition.

The BJD stormed home with a landslide victory to form a government for a record fifth term, bagging 113 of the 147 assembly seats, though its tally dipped marginally from the 2014 count of 117 seats.

The saffron party, despite its below-par performance, managed a handsome consolation, clinching 23 assembly seats from just 10 in 2014 and pushing the Congress to the third place with just nine seats under its belt.

The BJP also bettered its show when it won eight of the state's 21 Lok Sabha seats as against just one in the previous general election.

Large parts of Odisha were ravaged by cyclone Fani that claimed at least 64 lives and rendered over five lakh homeless.

The severe cyclonic storm, which barrelled through the coastal areas in early May, damaged over 30 per cent crop and affected more than 1,00,000 hectares of agricultural land in 14 districts of the state. The BJD government, however, got accolades for the way it tackled the natural disaster.

"A record of 1.2 million people were evacuated in 24 hours... This mammoth exercise involved more than 45,000 volunteers," Patnaik had said a day after Fani struck Odisha.

Prior to the assembly polls, the Naveen Patnaik dispensation mounted a blistering attack on the BJP-led government at the Centre on expected lines, accusing it of ignoring the interest of Odisha and adopting a step-motherly approach.

Patnaik slammed the central government for denying special category status to the state and accused the BJP of meting out injustice to Odisha in connection with the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh and the Mahanadi river dispute with Chhattisgarh.

BJP leaders, during electioneering, repeatedly dubbed the BJD government as inefficient and corrupt, with senior party leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah going to the extent of describing the Odisha government as a "burnt transformer" that needed to be thrown out.

The pre-poll acrimony, however, softened into affability soon after the election as the BJP, which had parted ways with the BJD in 2009 after being allies for more than nine years in the state, sought support from the regional party for Ashwini Vaishnav, a former Odisha cadre IAS officer, as a Rajya Sabha candidate.

The 1994-batch officer, who had worked under former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, joined the BJP and was subsequently elected to Rajya Sabha with BJDs backing.

Senior BJP leaders had a tone of geniality for the BJD government which was evident from the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi showered praise on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for "efficient management" of cyclone Fani.

In November, Patnaik came in for appreciation from Modi again, this time for strict adherence to parliamentary norms and discipline. Shah followed suit, lauding the CM for ensuring a violence-free campaign in the run-up to the polls.

Congress leaders, including state party chief Niranjan Patnaik, were left fuming and accused the BJD of striking a deal with the BJP, claiming that the "Modi-Naveen Bhai-Bhai" scenario was "compromising" Odisha's interests.

The BJD's support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has since become law, apparently suggested that the regional party was ready to toe the BJP line. However, following protests against the legislation by the Muslim community in the state, Patnaik stated that his party was not in favour of the proposed pan-India NRC.

The merger of the much-hyped Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) programme with the Centre's Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme also came under heavy criticism from the opposition and farmer organisations. Ahead of the polls, the state government had refused to tag KALIA and PM-KISAN.

The Naba Nirman Krushak Sangathan (NNKS), a leading farmers body, even threatened to lodge complaints in all police stations against the chief minister for making "false promises" prior to the polls.

During the year, the state government launched its ambitious 'Mo Sarkar' (my government) initiative, which seeks to make the administration more accountable and responsive to the needs of the common people.

Patnaik had announced the move is part of his 5T mantra - Transparency, Technology, Teamwork, Transformation and Time - in order to bring about a transformation in the way the government functions.

Meanwhile, crimes against women, especially sexual assault of minor girls, rose sharply in Odisha in 2019.

Data shared by Minister of State for Home Divyashankar Mishra for the first six months of the year said 1,149 rape cases, including 604 of minors, were reported.

Odisha Law Minister Pratap Jena had recently said 45 fast-track special courts (FTSC) will be set up for a speedy trial of cases involving offences against women and children.

On the sports front, the state grabbed headlines by hosting several high-profile events, including the Hockey Olympic Qualifiers and the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship. Odisha also bagged the hosting rights for the prestigious Men's Hockey World Cup 2023.

(Published 28 December 2019, 10:43 IST)

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