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Divided Over Heritage Corridor

Bhubaneswar: Is the Opposition BJP divided over the most sensitive issue like the Puri Heritage Corridor Project? The fissure in the saffron party’s state unit came to the fore when Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi staged a ‘Pada Jatra’ all alone opposing the ongoing project work close to Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri.

Aparajita, who has made things difficult for the Odisha Government by raising certain pertinent questions on the much-hyped project in Parliament and at Puri, took up the issue single-handedly and got support from party’s national spokesperson, Sambit Patra. While undertaking the ‘Pada Jatra’, she could not find her party colleagues behind her, but supporters pepped up her mood by joining the walk.

This is not all, the BJP’s Puri legislator, Jayanta Sarangi also was not seen anywhere when the Bhubaneswar MP walked down about 1.5 kilometer from Medical Square to Lion’s Gate recently. The BJP MLA, whose residence is close to the 12th century shrine, however, issued a statement the next day supporting Aparajita apparently seeing massive support for her flowing in from different quarters including the pilgrim town as also from other political parties and local organizations opposing the project.

In the entire episode, Puri MLA Jayant Sarangi appeared to be uncertain about what stand he should take. When the opposition MLAs in Odisha Legislative Assembly raised the Heritage Corridor issue forcing the state government to set up a House Committee to inspect the ongoing construction work within the restricted zone of the shrine, it was Jayant, who took the lead.

However, after formation of a House panel under chairmanship of Speaker Surjya Narayan Patro, which is yet to visit the place of construction, Jayant remained silent. Even he was on record saying that the construction works started by the State Government should be completed before the monsoon. The lawmaker, who was earlier demanding a stoppage of work, has now changed his stand and wishes the work should be over before the arrival of rains. The MLA’s vacillation and the Pada Jatra by Aparajita indicate that the BJP is clearly divided over the Heritage Corridor issue.

However, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who unsuccessfully contested from Puri Lok Sabha seat, has been frequently posting on social media and opposing the project. As Patra’s headquarters is in New Delhi and he has no such fan following in the state BJP, who will walk along with Aparajita in rally against the project? Yet, supporters were with Aparajita as she is garnering more public support on this sensitive issue. In her bid to invoke public support, Aparajita’s actions are designed to show her total surrender to the wishes of Lord Jagannath. Her ‘Sastang Pranam’ before the Lion’s Gate drew the attention of one and all as it was widely covered by the media.

Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was earlier considered as the BJP’s face in Odisha, and used to post issues on twitter and release statements, mysteriously remains silent over the issue. He might have made a statement or two, but was silent on the state government’s act of digging 30 feet deep pits close to the shrine.

There might be some other reasons for the BJP’s non-cooperation of Aparajita Sarangi’s stand on the Heritage Corridor issue. After the completion of the Urban Local Body elections in the state Aparajita had said that the party would be stronger when the leader becomes strong, clearly indicating that the BJP candidates did not perform well in both the rural and urban polls due to a weak leadership. Therefore, that “weak” leadership has preferred to keep away from the Corridor project issue. So, it is Aparajita alone who is fighting against the state government over the issue, which has caught the imagination of the religiously bent people of Odisha.

With this backdrop, BJP State spokesperson Surath Biswal has stated that the BJP is not against development of Puri, but not in favour of work being done without proper permission. When Aparajita hit the Puri Grand Road on April 27 despite restrictions from the District Administration, the BJP spokesperson said that the party has not given any call for the ‘Pada Jatra’ or any agitation. Not naming Aparajita, he said that any leader might be part of the April 27 Puri agitation on their personal capacity. However, Aparajita has been successful in her effort to endear with the people on the issue of Lord Jagannath.

Government Chief Whip Pramila Mallick, not taking the name of Aparajita, has pointed out that she is not even getting support from her party. Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb has already said that the ongoing work is no threat to the structure of the temple. Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mahapatra has also said that work is done in “coordination” with the ASI. All have faith in the state government except Aparajita.  

Puri MP Pinaki Mishra, who countered Aparajita in the Lok Sabha after she raised the issue, said that the Bhubaneswar MP might be opposing the Heritage Corridor project in order to create her own space within BJP.

Anyway, according to political analysts, there should be no doubt that Aparajita has not been getting the State BJP’s support even as she is the lone MP, who can meet the Prime Minister directly and talk to him. There should be no doubt that both Aparajita and Sambit Patra are well connected with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is also believed that the Prime Minister is aware of the Puri Heritage Corridor project and its importance for the people of Odisha. However, National BJP is also silent on the issue raised by two National spokespersons, Aparajita and Patra.

Now, the Puri Heritage Corridor project issue has become a prestige issue for Aparajita. And keeping her mindset in view, it is believed that she would not allow the issue to die down. She will certainly take up the matter to a logical end because the bureaucrat-turned-politician knows it well that the Puri Heritage Corridor issue is a unique opportunity for her to reach out to people across the state and not Bhubaneswar or Puri alone. The Puri issue has the potential to make her more popular and acceptable across the state. Time will tell who wins, is it Aparajita Sarangi or Bharatiya Janata Party?