Editorial: Knives Out In Odisha’s High-Stakes Battle

Editorial: Knives Out In Odisha’s High-Stakes Battle

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, May 13, 2024, 07:40 PM IST
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Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha | Twitter/@Naveen_Odisha

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s uncharacteristically scathing attack on Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, challenging him to name all the districts in the state without consulting his notes, has come as a surprise as the two leaders have always shared a cordial relationship. In fact, the Biju Janata Dal has often come to the rescue of the ruling BJP government in Parliament, be it the passage of key bills or other issues. While the BJP and BJD are in conflict in the state and parliamentary elections, which are being held simultaneously, the two leaders have never before resorted to personal attacks. Modi’s sharp criticism of Patnaik, also taking a dig at his poor Odia language skills, was met by a counter-attack by the chief minister who asserted that the BJP could only dream of assuming power in Odisha and also accused the PM of going back on his promises for the state, including listing Odia as a classical language. If the Prime Minister’s strategy was to influence voters by poking holes in the chief minister’s policies, the move may backfire because Patnaik is a hugely popular figure in Odisha. His poor language skills notwithstanding, he is a big draw for the people of the state because he has delivered on the ground with a slew of welfare schemes that reach the targeted beneficiaries effectively.

The fact is ever since the planned BJP-BJD alliance fell through earlier this year, there has been added friction between the two parties. Modi himself was apparently keen on the tie-up but local BJP leaders and some Odisha leaders at the Centre were against it. Just as the Left and Congress are natural rivals in Kerala, the BJP and BJD are on opposite sides of the spectrum in Odisha. The BJP, in its quest for increased seats, is banking on West Bengal and Odisha to deliver. Therefore, the all-out attack on the BJD, especially Patnaik’s close aide VK Pandian, labelling him an outsider, is understandable. Attempts have also been made to poach on BJD leaders unhappy with Pandian’s prominence in the party. Modi has promised voters that if the BJP comes to power in Odisha, a true son of the soil will be chief minister, in an indirect dig at both the CM and Pandian, seen as his successor. Patnaik, who came to Odisha as an untested politician with a reputation of being a socialite author is now the state’s longest serving chief minister having been in the post for over two decades. His connect with the people is sometimes unfathomable but there is little chance that he will be unseated in these elections. The BJP can only hope to increase its vote share and maybe gain a few more Lok Sabha seats. A saffron government in Bhubaneswar is still a long shot.

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