Friend Or Foe!

Narahari Rout, a farmer in the Patkura area of Kendrapara district, is a confused man today. As the Election Commission of India announced July 20 as the date for the polling in Patkura Assembly constituency, Rout and many others are unable to take a decision whom to vote.

In the recently concluded polls on April 29, they had voted for BJD. But, this time, they are confused because the political equation between the two opponents has changed.

The innocent villagers are confused as they saw BJD donating a Rajya Sabha seat to BJP, the party against which Naveen’s outfit fought an electoral battle. “We are confused because the two parties have been supporting each other after the elections. We, the villagers, are unwittingly getting divided on political line,” Rout admits.

Rout’s statement voices the opinion of most of the people in Patkura. As BJD and BJP have already become friends following the recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections, it has been very difficult for voters to take a decision. Now, they have started seeing both the ‘BJ’ parties as the same.

However, peoples’ confusion is more intense when they find Congress engaged in infighting instead of facing the rival parties. Since Congress is not coming up, voters’ choice is limited. They have to vote for either BJD or BJP. Congress has fielded Jayant Mohanty, a Cuttack-based businessman, while BJP has put former minister Bijay Mohapatra. BJD has fielded former Patkura MLA Bed Prakash Agarwal’s widow Sabitri, a housewife in her late 60s. Now, under changed situation, people view that there is no difference in voting for either Mohapatra or Agarwal. They may appear different in Patkura, but the difference will vanish once Naveen supports BJP after getting a phone call from the Modi-Shah combine.

Naveen’s BJD, which claimed to be maintaining equal distance from both BJP and Congress since 2009, was fully accepted by the people of Odisha. After the 2019 elections, the BJD supremo changed his party’s stand and decided to support BJP on every issue, even as the regional outfit claims that the state will provide constructive cooperation to the centre. People are further confused when Naveen supported BJP candidate Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha elections. Is gifting a Rajya Sabha seat to an opposition party an instance of constructive cooperation? 

BJP, which finds it difficult in the Rajya Sabha due to lack of numbers, got a fresh strength when Naveen added one to its existing number. In other words, BJD helped BJP gain strength in the Rajya Sabha where it required most. By donating a seat in the Rajya Sabha to BJP, Naveen’s party has proved that it is a “friend in need”. Therefore, it has been established that they are really friends and the fight in constituencies is just an eye wash.

What has dented the image of BJD in public eyes is Naveen’s decision to gift a Rajya Sabha seat. Had the regional party helped the centre on certain issues or Bill and the Speaker elections, things would have been different. By supporting Vaishnaw, BJD has exposed itself that it is with BJP, helping the saffron party to counter the opposition in the Upper House in the Parliament. Meanwhile, since beginning of the Modi-2.0, BJD has helped BJP.

On the other hand, BJD got shock of the life when Union Minister for Environment & Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar announced extension of construction work of the controversial Polavaram project by two years. BJP government extended support to the project despite Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s strong opposition. When BJD openly supported BJP in the face of criticism, the saffron party did not help Odisha. The BJP government took a decision which can be termed “anti-Odisha” when BJD claimed to be working for the protection of the state’s “interest.”

BJP, akin to its earlier stand on the Mahanadi dispute, supported Andhra Pradesh despite BJD’s all-out support to the centre and the BJP. Javadekar’s announcement has come as an embarrassment for Naveen, who has been claiming that BJD’s actions will benefit the state. In the bargain, it appears that Naveen has lost while BJP gained. It is a billion dollar question as to why Naveen supports BJP.

With BJD supporting BJP, Naveen, however, gained in the state by silencing the state’s main opposition party. During the first phase of Odisha Assembly’s first session, opposition BJP’s performance has been mild even as the saffron party has 23 members in the 147-member House. New Leader of Opposition Pradipta Naik, a thorough gentleman, has been soft towards the BJD government. Congress which has only nine seats in the Assembly has performed like the main opposition party. BJP opted not to put the government in trouble in the House.
The state government ministers, however, faced trouble from the treasury bench when agriculture minister Arun Kumar Sahoo and Labour Minister Sushant Singh were grilled over one issue or another. The BJP lawmakers, as members of the main opposition party, could not rise to expectations, may be because of the changing equation with the BJD.

The opposition’s voice becoming feeble in the Assembly is considered inauspicious for democracy. When the main opposition party works under pressure, there are all possibilities of the government taking advantage. This is not in the interest of the state. Though Naveen politically got advantage in Odisha, issues like Special Category Status, more grants for railways, telecom, national highway expansion, Mahanadi, Polavaram, coal royalty revision and many other issues directly linked to the state’s interest have been affected.

Now, under changing circumstances, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, as the president of the regional party, needs to revisit its policy of closing ranks with BJP, which though at present politically advantageous, may in the long run turn out to be a disadvantage for the regional outfit. And keeping people in confusion will harm BJD. Can the regional party afford to keep people in confusion for long? The BJD supremo has to take a call soon, feel party insiders.

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