Politics Of Poverty


Union Minister of State for Rural Development Ramkripal Yadav was recently seen drinking Mandia Jau at the home of a tribal woman in nondescript Bheda village under Umarkote Block in Odisha’s Nabarangpur district.
Did the Minister fly from Chhattisgarh in a chopper to eat the boiled ragi? He moved from village after village to talk to the hapless poor, which clearly shows Odisha’s poverty. Politicians are highlighting this as “Poverty Cry” is gaining currency.
The poor people of Kalahandi, Nuapada, Balangir, Nabarangpur and other backward districts have seen many politicians from Indira Gandhi till Ramkripal. All of them assure them to eradicate poverty. However, poverty remains. Now that BJP has targeted Odisha, Yadav’s visit is no surprise. 
It seems the “Politics of Poverty” of 1980s has returned, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the miseries of the people living in this part of the country.  
Mr.Modi, a shrewd politician, took no time to identify “Poverty” as the main issue to win confidence of Odias. When the Prime Minister was campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, he had decided what should be the party’s plank for this eastern state. He probably got the clue to target Odisha’s poverty while campaigning in Bundelkhand area, one of the poverty ridden zones of the country.
Though Mr.Modi was criticized by non-BJP politicians for highlighting Odisha’s poverty during Uttar Pradesh election campaign, he has now decided to make Odisha as the “Laboratory of welfare schemes for the poor.” 
Mr.Modi’s blue-eyed boy in Odisha, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, revealed the Prime Minister’s plan a day before the party’s two-day National Executive meeting being held here after a gap of 20 years.
Poverty has all along been the key factor in Odisha politics as reports of hunger deaths, child sale and migration continued from Kalahandi, Nuapada and Bolangir during the Congress regime in 1980s.
In the 1990 general elections, the issue of hunger deaths was one of the main poll planks riding which Biju Patnaik came to power. However, Congress tried to assuage the hurt feelings of the poorest of the poor in KBK region during Narashimha Rao’s tenure in 1991 after he launched Long Term Programme for the KBK region. One thing was for sure that after opening of Indravati irrigation project in Kalahandi, the hunger zone became a rice bowl.  
Stories of hunger death and poverty became passé. However, Dana Majhi of Kalahandi carrying the body of his deceased wife walking down more than 10 kilometres once again raised the issue of poverty to the fore.
Now with Prime Minister Mr.Modi raking up poverty eradication plank, the Naveen Patnaik led BJD government is quoting Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement: “The rate of poverty reduction in Odisha was highest in the country.” However, this does not mean that there is no poverty in Odisha.
Like neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, people in Odisha are also poor, the reason of which is long negligence by successive Union Governments and lack of a will power on the part of the State Government.  The state’s funding to eliminate poverty is also not adequate.
The State Government Budget Spending is more in the coastal region and less in both south and western regions. It is time the state administration had a closer look as the poverty eradication call is catching up peoples’ mind.  State Government has failed to uplift the backward region by providing livelihood support, education and health.
It is a fact that with less political clout at Delhi durbar a non-BJP ruled State is bound to suffer. State Government has all along been demanding Special Category Status and Special Package for KBK region. But neither the Congress led UPA nor the BJP led NDA Government has listened the state’s plea.
Now BJP has come out with a promise that it will help the State if people voted the party to power.
Odisha’s fiscal strength is waning after 2015. The state is experiencing funds crunch and resorting to borrowing from market. While there was change in sharing ratio on almost all central schemes, it is badly hitting states’ finances. A scheme which was running in 75:25 ratio is now running in 60:40 ratio. The Centre also stopped at least eight welfare schemes, forcing the State Government to run them at the cost of the State revenue.
However, Union Government is repeatedly claiming that by accepting 14th Finance Commission Recommendations, State Governments are receiving more funds from the Central kitty.
Odisha’s Finance Minister while presenting the Annual Budget said the State has no alternative than going for market borrowing for capital expenditure and in infrastructure sector. Now the State Government has to fund certain railway projects while the Indian Railways earns highest profit from this region.
In the 2015-16 fiscal, the State Government borrowed Rs 4,400 crore from market, which went up to Rs7,600 crore in 2016-17. “With slow down of central funds flow the State Government started going for market borrowings from 2015-16 after a period of 9 years. Last time the State went for market borrowing in 2005-06,” pointed out a senior official involved in Budget preparation.
With BJP determined to capture power, sources said the State will have to go for more market borrowing to support different welfare schemes as tax and non-tax resources generation do not show any marked improvement.
The row with the Indian Oil Corporation over its refinery project at Paradip is another testimony of Central Government’s attitude towards Odisha. However, BJP in its several hoardings claimed that Odisha is one of the biggest beneficiaries from the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, which is strongly contested by Odisha Minister Finance Pradip Amat.


Now that Prime Minister himself has raised the poverty issue, it catches public imagination. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik needs to adopt a proper strategy to face the challenges posed by BJP. In coming days, BJP will raise the issue with high decibel campaign.  BJD needs to develop its strategy to counter the move; or else it may fall a prey to the poverty cry.  

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