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All Is Not Well

Bhubaneswar: It appears that all is not well in the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which for the first time during its 21 years rule, is facing gravest ever opposition from rival political parties like the BJP and the Congress. The regional party headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, has all along given befitting replies to the opponents and therefore, clinched five consecutive general elections by winning hearts of the people. However, the difference in the party was clearly visible recently when the BJP and the Congress MPs raised the issues of law and order involving some ministers, in Lok Sabha.  

Contrary to its earlier united voice against the opposition BJP and Congress in the national level, the ruling BJD MPs were seen remaining silent even as BJP MP Suresh Pujari and Congress MP Saptagiri Ullaka raised the issues like Kalahandi lady teacher’s kidnapping and murder case where the name of Minister of State for Home has cropped up. The saffron lawmaker also raised the issue of Mahanga double murder case where Odisha’s law minister figured. The opposition MPs also highlighted the high rate of crimes against women in the Naveen Patnaik regime, particularly since the beginning of his fifth term.

The opposition MPs alleged that the BJD Government shielded certain ministers and politicians and the law was not taking its course. When Suresh Pujari for the first time raised the issue in Parliament on 9 December, the BJD MPs were silent. Then, Congress MP from Koraput Saptagiri Ullaka also raised the same issue and targeted the BJD government in Odisha on 13 December. On both occasions, the BJD MPs preferred to remain silent.

The deviation in the role of BJD is clearly marked now. When the Congress MP Mr.Ullaka on 29 November, 2019 raised the mysterious death issue of a woman panchayat functionary at Dharmasala block of Jajpur district during the Zero Hour and alleged involvement of some ruling party members, then BJD MPs including Pinaki Mishra, Anubhav Mohanty and Bhartruhari Mahatab strongly objected. Standing near their seats, both Mr.Mishra and Mr.Mahatab had drawn the attention of the Lok Sabha Speaker that the issue discussed in the State Legislative Assembly could not be raised in the Parliament as per the Rules of the Business. They said the opposition raised the issue in Lok Sabha for political motives. Speaker Om Prakash Birla assured the agitating BJD MPs that he would verify the records of the House.

However, in the case of the Kalahandi woman teacher’s case and other such law and order issues, there was eerie silence in the BJD parliamentary party. This clearly indicated that the BJD’s parliamentary party did not agree with the party MLAs in Odisha who strongly protected the tainted ministers and leaders involved in the crime against women cases.

The Parliamentarians remained silent because offenses against women are not easily accepted by the people of Odisha. They have also seen how the late JB Patnaik’s regime collapsed over just one gang rape case and the then chief minister’s act of shielding the Advocate General. JB Patnaik could not face the public ire and finally vacated the seat.

Many in the ruling BJD, except a few influential persons, are shielding the tainted ministers and leaders which is not accepted by the majority. It is another matter that the majority in the regional party prefers to remain silent, but many privately do not accept the manner in which certain leaders are being given protection at the cost of the party. This apart, many also do not accept the tainted ministers or leaders sharing dais with the Chief Minister, who is the fountainhead of BJD’s success story. Both the Minister of State for Home and the Minister of Law enjoy patronage from a highly influential group in the party. The majority, while not openly opposing the influential group, fear that protecting the sullied few may affect the electoral prospect of Biju Janata Dal.

The opposition BJP and Congress, which paralyzed the entire winter session of the Assembly demanding resignation of the MoS, Home and handing over the lady teacher’s killing case to CBI or a High Court monitored SIT, could give a clear message to the people that the tainted ministers were being shielded by the Chief Minister himself after he targeted the opposition parties by making allegation that the issue is being politicized by BJP and Congress. Public also got the message that the tainted ministers can also roam round the Chief Minister and share dais with him with impunity. MoS, Home, who was allegedly denied a seat near the Chief Minister at Baripada, got back his glory by sitting close to Chief Minister at Bhawanipatna.

Anyway, the power corridor is agog with speculation that Naveen may go for corrective measures before the ensuing three-tier panchayat polls early next year. Before the elections for the rural and urban local bodies, Naveen may go for a reshuffle of his two-and-half-year old ministry, which has become due. During that time, he may drop some of the tainted ministers and take a few others with comparatively better public image.

This is because, according to political analysts, Naveen would never tolerate the saffron party making a better score than before. The BJP had won 297 Zilla Parishad seats in 2017 panchayat elections and Naveen would like to contain the saffron success within that limit. Therefore, to achieve the goal, he would not hesitate to sideline the tainted ministers.

The Chief Minister has already created a conducive atmosphere for the ruling party by distributing the much needed smart health card and also the government school transformation under 5T Charter. It is going well among the public and people are happy over such transformations.

During the year the Chief Minister has focused on the health and education sectors which would be the game changers in the ensuing three elections for rural, urban and cooperative bodies. Even the BJD supremo expects a high return for his party in the 2024 general elections for Assembly and Lok Sabha with such pro-people moves. However, he has to assuage the hurt feelings of people by taking corrective steps as it seems they are not happy the way tainted ministers are given cover by the Big Boss.