Bhubaneswar: January 29, 2023 has emerged as an important day for the state. Since then, the political mercury is on the rise after the assassination of a sitting Cabinet Minister Naba Kishore Das. Peaceful Odisha has witnessed sloganeering, demonstrations, agitations and effigy burning since the murder of a stalwart of ruling BJD allegedly by a policeman.
Though the BJD leaders publicly remained silent over the issue, the fact that a resourceful cabinet minister was killed in broad daylight by a policeman has itself created a history of sorts. A BJD MLA, the wheelchair-bound Jagabandhu Majhi, was gunned down by Maoists in 2011. The ultras also killed a lawmaker’s personal security officer (PSO). However, there is a big difference between these assassinations. While Majhi was killed by Maoists, the police turned a killer in the latest case.
People of the state were stunned as Shri Das killing had eerie similarities with the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her security staff. In both the cases, the killers were immediately nabbed. The big difference is that while the motive behind Indira’s killing came to light in a matter of hours, the Odisha Police is yet not sure why Shri Das was killed.
Naba Das’ killing has led to unrest across the state as the uncertain aftermath has given rise to diverse outcomes. The Opposition BJP and Congress have taken up the matter seriously raising questions on the prevailing law and order situation with the Chief Minister himself holding the Department of Home.
Anyway, it is a big embarrassment for Naveen Patnaik since his cabinet minister was gunned down by an ASI of the police department under his charge. The incident has given scope for visibility to the saffron parties. BJP was subdued after the Padampur election result. But the Minister’s killing has offered an agenda to the BJP. They have been burning effigies of the Chief Minister almost every day while Congress asked him to relinquish Home portfolio as this was the first incident in Odisha that a sitting minister was killed by the police. This comes as a big embarrassment for the regional party that has been ruling the state for 23 years without any pause.
The BJP leaders also staged agitations before all the district headquarters across the state. An agitation of such kind took a different turn when Leader of Opposition Jaynarayan Mishra allegedly pushed a woman police inspector and the police have booked the saffron stalwart under different sections of the IPC including 354 which read as an offence for outraging modesty of a woman. Mishra, however, claimed that he did not misbehave with the woman police inspector, but as a reflex action, he pushed her after she stomped his feet during the protest. Mishra was barefooted while the woman inspector was booted which hurt him to stop her, the LoP explained.
However, the BJD rejected his clarification and demanded his removal and even engaged transgenders to stage demonstrations before his residence. The BJP also did not lose any opportunity to send a transgender team to agitate in front of the Minister of State for Home, Tusharkanti Behera’s residence.
While the BJD and BJP are busy in hitting the street over different issues, the opposition Congress keeps on adding to its strength. Bijay Patnaik, a former Chief Secretary and close associate of Naveen Patnaik, has joined the Congress and he is set to go round the state to speak how Naveen has changed and the power is being exercised by his alter-ego. Patnaik’s joining Congress may not make any difference for the huge political outfit like BJD, but it has given a ‘Talking Point’ to the people to hold discussion on the BJD governance style. Encouraged by its national president’s words, the BJP leaders have also started asking who was actually ruling Odisha. Like Naveen’s popular slogan “Apan Mane Khusi To?” BJP tries to push its President JP Nadda’s words as “Who is ruling Odisha?” People find Nadda’s slogan interesting and talk about BJD’s loopholes. Starting from tea stalls to playgrounds and also farm lands, people everywhere have started asking, “Who is ruling Odisha?”
BJP National General Secretary Sunil Bansal has advised the cadre to be visible on streets as this merciless killing in a peaceful state has given much needed scope for the saffron brigade. Now they have chalked out detailed plans for scaling up their political activities following the Das killing. The party’s national leaders including Union Ministers have already fixed dates for visiting Odisha trumpeting the list of their achievements. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who came on an official visit to the state on February 17 and 18, addressed a meeting at the BJP state headquarters even as there was no such programme in her itinerary. She focused on budget provisions for women, the basic strength of BJD for winning elections in the state.
As the BJD-BJP keep on engaging each other in agitations, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) has silently prepared plans to make an inroad to Odisha politics via the southern districts. KCR’s party has so far enrolled the former CM and tribal leader Giridhar Gamang, former MP Jairam Pangi and farmer leader Akshaya Kumar besides half-a dozen former MLAs. The BRS has already given an alternative platform to the leaders who are unhappy in BJD, BJP or Congress. They can join the BRS and contest the ensuing elections in 2024. The main factor for contesting elections like funding is unlikely to become a problem for the leaders joining BRS.
In a nutshell, Odisha politics has been undergoing a different phase now particularly after Naba Das killing and other parties eyeing the BJD’s bastion. The BJD has reasons to be wary as things in 2024 would not be easy as it used to be in the previous five elections. The party needs to choose its strategy carefully keeping in view the visibility of the saffron brigade. A small mistake could land the governing party in trouble. The Odisha politics is now set to become stormy much ahead of the 2024 elections. As members of all the political parties get ready for big fights, the political temperature may soon reach a boiling point.