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Height Of Acrimony

Bhubaneswar: Never before in the recent past has Odisha witnessed the kind of acrimony among the political parties that has become the hallmark of the winter session of the State Legislative Assembly. Probably for the first time in the last so many years an Assembly session was squandered over just one issue.

The House in the past has seen members hurling chappals at the Speaker’s podium, violent scuffles with marshals driving out the unruly members, but not the complete paralysis of the House for days together, marked by intense acrimony and agitation. The Assembly was adjourned sine die 20 days ahead of its schedule.

Never before was such “no transaction” accomplished. During nine working days, the House could transact only for over two hours! The House smoothly conducted just two obituary references.

Speaker Surjya Narayan  Patro, who is a seasoned politician having about 40 years of experience in the legislative proceedings, finally expressed helplessness, saying that he could not do anything if all the members become unruly. He said the Speaker can take action against one, two or six members, but what he can do if all the members become unruly.

A senior lawmaker recalled the tenure of JB Patnaik when the opposition firebrands like Ashok Das, Bijay Mohapatra, Nalinikanta Mohanty and Srikant Jena made point blank attacks on the then chief minister. Then also House functioned as JB used to say that opposition would always remain in a democracy and they need to be taken along for the development of the state. Such thinking helped for the smooth conduct of the House after disruption for some time or some days. JB could do this because of the support from the Treasury Bench.

However, in the recent case when the opposition bayed for blood of Minister of State for Home, the ruling party members remained adamant and took steps to irritate the opposition. Instead of asking the minister to maintain a low profile in view of the prevailing situation, the government allowed him to give written replies to the questions asked to the Chief Minister.

Both the Treasury Bench and Opposition chose to enter the fray throwing all dignities to the wind. When the opposition members displayed placards, the BJD members next day wore masks to protest the BJP-led Centre’s refusal to accord the First War of Independence status to the Paika Bidroha.

As the opposition members sprinkled Ganga Jal and cow dung water to purify the House alleging that the House had become polluted due to presence of tainted ministers, the ruling BJD retaliated with the same mode of protest. There was a race between the ruling and opposition parties to grab the media focus. The parties also hit the streets on some issues or the other outside the assembly, with an eye on the ensuing three-tier rural and urban polls.

What actually went wrong for which the House was declared sine die 20 days ahead of the schedule without holding any discussion on the burning issues like the cyclone Jawad, farmers’ issues, law and order situation and even the Kalahandi woman teacher’s murder case? The answer is very simple. There was no such visible effort from the Parliamentary Affairs Minister to bring back normalcy.

Neither the Minister nor the Government Chief Whip made any effective attempt to bring the angry opposition members to the discussion table. Instead, Treasury Bench Members issued statements against the opposition parties which further aggravated the situation instead of pacifying it. Speaker Surjya Narayan Patro convened three all-party meetings, but those sittings did not yield any result.

The decision makers in the ruling party failed to read the opposition mood as they thought that a statement by the Chief Minister would pacify the situation. The attempt failed because the Chief Minister gave the statement through virtual mode instead of physically coming down to the House. The opposition also took umbrage at the CM’s physical absence in the House.

In the statement, the CM blamed the opposition and accused them of “politicizing” the issue. Was it appropriate for the Chief Minister? Naveen is known for his soft and suave nature and democratic principles. He has always been respected for his democratic approach. However, Naveen’s accusation of an angry opposition instead of assuaging them aggravated the situation, feel political analysts.

And above all, the BJD leaders earlier have also accused the opposition with such allegations. When the particular word came from the CM, it in fact hurt the opposition, pointed out a veteran lawmaker, who adores Naveen Patnaik for his gentle approach towards all.

It is another matter that Naveen in his statement appealed to the opposition to cooperate for the smooth functioning of the Assembly. But the tenor of the statement irked the opposition rather than motivating them to shun agitation and cooperate for smooth functioning of the Assembly.

Opposition this time too focused only on one issue (minister’s resignation demand) after forgetting their responsibility towards the people of the state as well as their constituents. The farmers this time have been at the receiving end after their matured crops got damaged due to cyclone induced rains.

It should also be remembered that the farmers had already struggled due to inadequate rainfall during the peak monsoon in July and August. This apart, the state’s prevailing law and order issue was also ignored as the entire opposition kept itself engaged demanding ouster of the minister both outside and inside the Assembly.

The political acrimony among the major parties has now reached its zenith and all are fighting with each other ahead of the rural and urban polls leading to a situation where we have landed now. This is high time for all the parties to remain under the purview of the democratic set up and tolerate each other instead of losing patience on all issues. Negotiations and dialogue are two major tools for efficient democratic conduct. Both opposition and ruling party have specific responsibilities and they should perform it.