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Paddy, Petrol & Politics

Bhubaneswar: After cyclone Yaas leaving the state after a trail of destruction and the second wave of the COVIDD-19 pandemic declining its intensity, the politics seems to be back in Odisha. The major political parties in the state – the governing BJD, opposition Congress and BJP in Odisha are back to the streets. As the cyclone and pandemic fear wanes for the time being, it is back to paddy, petrol and politics. The three major parties have already prepared their strategies to corner each other at least over two major issues like the Center’s announcement of new Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy and skyrocketing fuel price.

Though there is no immediate election slated ahead in the state and the panchayat and urban polls in 2021 uncertain, both the BJD and the Congress find it the suitable time to snap at BJP’s heels, over the fuel price hike and the rise in MSP of paddy. Both the issues directly hit at the people at large and implemented by the BJP-led NDA government at the centre, which had promised a “Achhe Din” to the people.   

In both the issues, the BJD and Congress have targeted the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the saffron party has been trying its best to be defensive. While BJP, the party which came to the power in 2014 over the issues of corruption and price hike of essential commodities, is now in a fix; its leaders in Odisha are worried as to how to defend the party.

Naveen Patnaik’s party sharply reacted barely two days after the cabinet committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the increase in the MSP for all mandated Kharif crops for the marketing season 2021-22. The BJD finds the rise in MSP a major tool to grind the BJP.

The Centre has hiked the MSP for paddy by just Rs 72 per quintal, which is too paltry to meet the Swaminathan Committee recommendations, alleged Agriculture and Farmers Empowerment Minister Arun Kumar Sahoo.

The BJD has chosen two of its frontline youth voices like Sanjay Dasburma and Arun Sahoo to hit at the NDA government at the centre on the twin issues of petrol and paddy respectively. Both Dasburma and Sahoo, known for their organizational skills, lost no time to take on the BJP on these issues.

Though the ruling BJD, remained silent for six years from 2014 to 2021, it has now decided to pick up its pet issue like fuel price hike. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on the BJD’s Foundation Day in December 2020, had given a clear indication to the party rank and file that its basic character as a regional party should not be diluted by remaining silent on the issues concerning the people of Odisha.

As the BJD appeared weak in western region of the state from where BJP won maximum Lok Sabha seats in 2019 elections, the party has chosen the paddy issue to mobilize people of that region, which is considered as the rice bowl of Odisha.

Odisha is the fourth largest producer of rice in the country and the Modi government has done injustice by not giving proper MSP to the farmers. Now the MSP for paddy is Rs 1,940 per quintal while the BJD demanded to enhance it to Rs 2,930 which would largely benefit the farmers as per MSP recommended by the Swaminathan Committee. The State Assembly had unanimously adopted resolutions in 2017 and 2018 for enhancing the MSP of paddy to Rs 2,930 per quintal. The BJD also wondered how will Modi’s slogan of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022 be possible if the MSP is not adequately raised? It appears that the BJD would carry forward the issue till the ensuing urban and rural polls in the state likely before 2022.

Similarly, the party also picked up the fuel price rise issue. Senior BJD leader Sanjay Dasburma was more critical of the Modi government. The BJD has coined a slogan “Sahe Tapilani Taila Dara, Utar Dayi Rahibe NDA Sarkar” (Fuel price crossed Rs.100, NDA government to be held accountable). Dasburma pointed out that fuel price has changed at least 16 times in the month of May. The per litre prices of petrol and diesel have been hiked by Rs 5 in a span of only five weeks, he said adding that fuel price hike has increased the price of all essential commodities. “You cannot make pandemic a shield to raise the fuel price,” the BJD said in a statement.

The BJD pointed out that the BJP workers had allegedly attacked the house of former Delhi CM Sheila Dixit over price rise of essential commodities in 2013. The BJP gave “Achhe Din” call over the price rise of commodities. Now the same NDA in power has been repeating the mistakes of UPA government, the BJD said.

The Opposition Congress has also not remained silent. The grand old party held a symbolic protest near all the fuel stations across the country including Odisha on 11 June. At a time when India is witnessing a spiralling rise in prices of essential commodities, the Modi government has been continuously increasing fuel prices, alleged OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik. He said the fuel price rise has led to more suffering to people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Congress also blamed the BJP-led government at the Centre for enhancing the excise duty by Rs 23.87 per litre on petrol and Rs 28.37 on diesel. The BJP had promised to provide petrol at Rs 35 in 2014 when it came to power at the Centre, said Congress leader Sarat Patnaik.

Though the price hike of fuel was stopped for some days for the elections in states, the oil marketing companies did not wait long. Earlier, petrol and diesel prices increased 26 times in 2021 with the two auto fuels increasing by Rs 7.46 and Rs 7.60 per litre respectively so far this year.

In both the issues, the BJP leaders in Odisha are in a defensive mode. Though they give media bytes, the saffron party can hardly justify the price rise of essential commodities including fuel.