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A Fighting Spirit Needed

Bhubaneswar: Rubbing shoulders and chanting ‘Vande Mataram’ with the visiting Union Ministers Ashiwini Vaishnaw and Dharmendra Pradhan, may make the saffron brigade across Odisha happy. But can they infuse the spirit of fight among the BJP’s rank and face the mighty Biju Janata Dal (BJD) headed by Naveen Patnaik? The regional party, which is deeply rooted in the state with a strong one crore members spread in nook and corner of the state, is growing by the day; and the state’s principal opposition party BJP continues to remain in BJD’s shadow.

This is the present political scenario when the state is preparing to face the three-tier rural elections, urban polls in 2022 and finally the General Elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assembly in 2024. With induction of new members in the Union Council of Ministers, it was expected by the saffron party leaders, that the BJP central leadership would take a specific stand against the ruling BJD, at least considering the series of elections ahead. However, the hopes of the saffron brigade have started waning after the Union Ministers’ Jan Ashriwad Yatra in six districts covering seven Lok Sabha segments.

Though the BJP state leadership is all against the BJD Government and tries to pounce on every small mistake of the State administration, the central leaders and Union ministers, who are supposed to carry forward the fight and infuse a sense of confidence in the party’s rank and file, have remained silent. Neither Mr.Vaishnaw nor Mr.Pradhan during their Jan Ashriwad Yatra uttered a single word against the BJD Government, or its ministers leave alone targeting Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Though Pradhan has been urging the state government to include Odisha in the centre’s flagship Ayushman Bharat Yojana, he preferred to limit his words against the state government even as the state BJP leaders shouted at the top of their voices on the alleged irregularities in the implementation of the rural housing schemes, safe drinking water supply, political violence, crimes against women, paddy procurement and other issues.

On his maiden visit to the state, the bureaucrat-turned-politician Mr.Vaishnaw who witnessed a meteoric rise in the politics, also preferred to remain silent against the BJD Government and the Chief Minister contrary to the expectations of the saffron brigade. Mr.Vaishnaw has reasons to remain silent against the State Government as he was elected to the Upper House of the Parliament with support of BJD. He is primarily considered as a ‘Naveen’s Man’ in the Modi Cabinet while Dharmendra’s silence also added to the woes of the saffron party leaders and workers. BJP’s two faces in Odisha – Mr.Vaishnaw and Mr.Pradhan, adopted a strategy not to speak against Naveen or his 21 years of governance while the state BJP leaders are leaving no stone unturned to find fault with governing dispensation. This strategy of the BJP has, in fact, given a wrong message to the public and the party workers at the grass root level and booth level and they are confused and demoralized, pointed out a former minister and saffron veteran.

The people across the state have almost concluded that both the BJD and the BJP top leaders have joined hands and will do so when the situation arises. Therefore, there is no point in fighting with the BJD at the village level when the senior leaders enjoy their friendship in the Delhi durbar.

Many people in the BJP have developed the impression that Mr.Vaishnaw became important in the Modi Council of Ministers for his cordial relationship with Naveen Patnaik. They believe that Mr.Vaishnaw’s link with Naveen may come to the rescue of the BJP if the saffron party fails to get the required number to form its government at the Centre after 2024 general elections. Naveen under that situation may extend a helping hand to install a BJP government at the Centre.

Naveen, after 2019 elections, has been openly helping the Modi government and providing crucial support in all major issues like demonetization, CAA, JK Bill and other matters thus giving a clear signal that he is not an enemy of BJP. However, during his two decades’ regime in Odisha, Naveen has never helped Congress and even called it “corrupt.” However, Naveen has clearly forgotten that he too called BJP as “Communal” after BJD’s decade-long ties ended with the saffron party in 2009. Therefore, it is a general belief that Naveen and BJP are not opposed to each other even as they fight elections. After elections, both of them forget political rivalry and join hands on issues.

This public impression has proved fatal for the state BJP. Becoming a friend at Delhi and a foe in Bhubaneswar will not help the cause of BJP to oust Naveen’s party in Odisha. The Congress lost its credibility among the people of Odisha due to its own fault and not due to popularity of either Narendra Modi or the BJP. Had Modi’s popularity been a factor, the BJP could have won more seats than the BJD. The situation of BJP in Odisha is more or less akin to West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee has been going strong.

Now, a question obviously emerges as to how BJP will defeat the BJD in the ensuing rural and urban polls in 2022 when people find it hard to accept it as the real opposition party and not indulged in shadow boxing? This confusion has been further strengthened with the Union ministers visiting the state and highlighting the Modi government’s schemes without highlighting the lacunae in their implementation. When the Union ministers remain silent against the BJD government and Naveen Patnaik, it could have a lasting effect on other leaders like Aparajita Sarangi, Suresh Pujari, Jual Oram, Pratap Sarangi, Baijayant Panda and others who are generally critical to the State Government and the Chief Minister. With time, they may mend ways with the BJD and prefer to remain silent as senior leaders.

The silence of Union ministers is damaging for the party’s state unit as its members are gradually demoralized. Who can infuse confidence among the BJP’s rank and file? The BJP needs to prepare a specific strategy to deal with the BJD and towering Naveen Patnaik if it sincerely wants to rule Odisha.