Ahead of the November by-elections to two Assembly segments in Odisha, it is war time in the state politics. Hitherto considered as a friend of the ruling BJD, the opposition BJP is in action mode.
The Saffron Brigade has swung into action soon after securing the much needed support of the BJD on the 14 September elections to the Deputy Chairman’s post in the Rajya Sabha.
Naveen Patnaik’s BJD supported the NDA candidate on 14 September afternoon and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, considered as face of BJP in the state, lost no time to shoot a letter to the Union Education Minister against the State Government’s ordinance on Odisha University Act, 1989.
Mr.Pradhan acted in such a manner as if he was waiting for the election for the Rajya Sabha post to be over. Though Union Minister remained silent in the Bagala Dharmashala issue, as a cleaver politician he picked up the university ordinance as it affected large bodies of students, teachers, and intellectuals.
Politically, Mr.Pradhan has scored a point over Naveen and his team which quietly passed the ordinance without discussion either in the Assembly or in public forums. Mr.Pradhan has his fingers on the pulse of the people and therefore, picked up the university issue to corner the BJD in the ensuing by-elections in Balasore and Tirtol Assembly seats.
The BJP has, in fact got mileage out of posturing to be dear to the lakhs of students, teachers and academics as Mr.Pradhan has been leading the protest from the front. The saffron party will certainly make the university ordinance a major issue to woo the youths and students in two urban pockets of Balasore and Tirtol.
As such, students across the state are upset with the ruling party for not holding the college and university elections, thus denying them representation in the university decision making bodies.
Dubbing the ordinance "unprecedented", Mr.Pradhan said the proposed amendment sought to completely upend the higher education ecosystem in the state and had been criticized by the academic community for the drastic and regressive changes. He said that the amendment had stripped the universities of their autonomy by bringing them under the government’s higher education department.
The universities' apex body - the senate - has been replaced with the bureaucratic syndicate which will effectively be run by government appointed nominees, while the process for appointment of vice-chancellor has been vitiated by forced entry of a nominee in the search committee, Mr.Pradhan said.
However, it is strange that the BJD and its policy makers are yet to prepare a strategy to counter BJP’s attack. As such, Odisha Government and the regional party have remained silent over the National Education Policy (NEP), while several state governments have raised serious objections to NEP.
There was no discussion in the state on NEP, which could have given lot of political advantage to the regional party and could have diverted attention from the University Ordinance. But, the people at the helm preferred not to make it an issue and allowed the Centre to get away with NEP. It speaks volumes on the way BJD is turning into a passive force in state, where Naveen Patnaik rules the roost for two decades.
It is certainly a political setback for a party which claims to be truly regional.
However, the critics opined that it could be part of BJD’s appeasement policy which would not prove beneficial for the party as well as the government. There was no need to bring an ordinance now during the prevailing pandemic situation, they observed. This only created chaos and a handle for the BJP for grinding the regional party.
When the CBI raided the residence of BJD Vice-President and sitting MLA Debiprasad Mishra, BJP took the mileage. The search and grilling of Mr.Mishra was made even as the former Tourism Minister was in isolation after getting COVID-19 infection.
CBI action comes at a time when Balasore by-poll is a few months ahead. Common people in Balasore district have suffered a lot in the hands of chit fund scamsters. While CBI has been investigating these scams since 2014 as per the direction of the Supreme Court, another raid on BJD Vice President came as a blow for the regional outfit.
Now, the CBI returns at a time after the Election Commission of India announced the by-elections for two Assembly segments, one held by the BJD and another by the BJP. This time, the BJD has realized that the party is in real trouble and therefore, dared to react. Interestingly, BJD’s voice against the raids proved to be feeble.
“A pattern is seen that CBI starts conducting searches, raids and issues notices just before the by-elections, general elections and panchayat elections,” the BJD said in a statement. It also said that the people of Odisha wondered why such things happened before elections.
When saffron heavy-weight Dharmendra Pradhan himself is leading the attack on Naveen Patnaik government, BJD’s reaction emanated from a junior leader.
BJD has all along remained silent on the GST compensation issue, which has badly hit the state as Odisha government has agreed for option one and will be going for more borrowing to compensate the GST loss. Non-payment of GST compensation is a serious financial loss for the state, which is facing tough time on fiscal front. But BJD is not allowing its political platform to prove beneficial for the State.
Be it NEP, GST or the hike in the price of petrol during pandemic, BJD has remained silent and succumbed to the pressure of the centre, which is detrimental to the interest of the state, pointed out a senior Vice President.
Political leaders in BJD are missing in action, and unfortunately the party, despite being a strong regional outfit, maintains stoic silence on critical issues.
BJP on the other hand smartly utilizes its political platform to garner support from the people, who are enamoured with charismatic leader like Naveen Patnaik. Because the saffron leaders know that they have to take advantage of each opportunity to improve their influence on the people that they are now sharpening the attack.