Challenges For Patnaik

Even Naveen Patnaik’s worst critics would admit that legendary Biju Patnaik’s younger son has created a history which no other politician of Odisha could dream of. He has been Odisha’s Chief Minister for five consecutive terms and has joined the club of West Bengal’s Jyoti Basu and Sikkim’s Pawan Kumar Chamling.

While Chamling ruled Sikkim for 24 years 165 days, Jyoti Basu’s tenure was 23 years 137 days. Arunachal Pradesh’s Gegong Apang had 22 years, 8 months and 5 days while Mizoram’s Lal Thanhawla ruled for 21 years and 38 days. Naveen Patnaik, on the other hand, has been continuing as the Chief Minister since March 5, 2000.

The results of 2019 elections have proved that the people of Odisha trust Naveen more than anyone else, be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The trust has been converted into votes for which the ruling BJD secured 112 seats in the 147-member Odisha Assembly. People have also elected BJD candidates from 12 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha constituencies. When people trust Naveen, he has to meet their aspirations.   

The longer the tenure, more are the expectations. As a responsible leader, Naveen needs to meet them. Therefore, for him, challenges are many. And he should get ready to meet the challenges confronting the state.

Poverty poses the most serious challenge to the state. Though poverty is a nationwide phenomenon, the situation is acute in Odisha. Immediately after entering politics in 1997, Naveen had said that he would take measures to eradicate poverty from the state. After 22 years in power, be it as Union Minister or Chief Minister, he finds poverty still posing a serious threat to the state.

It is also a fact that the BJD Government has been successful in reducing poverty during its 19-year rule. But, this is not sufficient. The people of Odisha still stand in queue for cheap rice and fight among themselves for a drop of safe drinking water. Lack of irrigation is a major problem. Since poverty is the main reason of Odisha’s backwardness, the state government should take all measures to eradicate it. Presently, of the state’s 4.5 crore people, more than 3.26 crore avail cheap rice. The state government has to spend about Rs 2,000 crore per annum on cheap rice scheme. This shows how precarious is poverty in the state.  

While poverty is a major issue, unemployment is also one of the most burning issues. Though there has been rise in education level in the state, young men and women in Odisha do not get employment either in public or in private sector. While there has been huge investment in the private companies here, employment generation has been dismal.

Over 30 lakh Odias migrate to other states for employment. The highest migration is reported from the districts like Ganjam, Balangir, Kendrapara and a few others where there are hardly any industries. The Unemployment Rate (UR) in the state during the first three months of 2018 zoomed to a high of 6.77 per cent against 4.7 per cent in the last quarters of 2017. This is certainly a worrying factor. Odisha stands 7th among the top 10 major states in the country with high unemployment rates in the first quarters of 2018.

A problem which deeply worries us is that there has been no improvement in the unemployment situation in the state. As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) data, the unemployment rate in Odisha in January 2018 was around 5.5 per cent which further increased to 7 per cent and 7.8 per cent in February and March 2018 respectively. This is contrary to the fact the UR was around 2 per cent and 2.9 per cent in November and December 2017 respectively. The State Government appears to have no specific plan to check the rising unemployment.

After taking oath of the office as the Chief Minister for the fifth time in a row, Naveen Patnaik on the very first day made arrangement and opened Rs 1,000 crore worth business for women self-help groups (SHGs). This will certainly help women group members to raise their economic status and contribute to the government’s bid to reduce poverty.

This is a welcome step. But, what for the large army of educated and less educated unemployed youth who struggle for survival?

Like WSHGs, the State Government should create a situation where the unemployed youth also get benefit. We are not talking about unemployment allowance. The Government should take a cue from its own plan for the WSHG and create business opportunities for unemployed youth. If the unemployed youth are offered business opportunities, some of them may end up as entrepreneurs. Funding from Biju Yuva Vahini will go a long way to help out the youth.

Another major challenge before the new government is crime against the women, particularly rape of minor girls. Instances of crime against young women are on rise. While the Naveen Government has been doing so many things for women’s empowerment, it must evolve a strategy to ensure their safety. Stern measures like stringent punishment should be implemented which may help in getting rid of the heinous crimes against women.

Naveen also faces a major political challenge from the saffron party, which has already made inroads into the state, particularly in its western region. The BJD, in its serious attempt to check the saffron surge, should take adequate steps to ensure that BJP’s journey fuses mid-way.

 BJP has already entered into Odisha politics and will take a few more months to spread its influence. The young generation prefers BJP for which the party gets an easy access into the state. Naveen has retained power by getting votes of farmers and women, while BJP has got access to the youth. So it is expected that BJD will take care of the youth in its 5.0 Avatar.

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