By Sandeep Sahu
The atmosphere was electric – thousands of people thronging the entire stretch of land from Naveen Nivas to the Biju Patnaik airport; a concert of conches being blown full-throttle; frenzied musicians beating drums and cymbals as if there is no tomorrow; hordes of young men crying themselves hoarse in praise of their leader. It was a send-off worthy of a modern day version of the famous Kanchi Abhijaan undertaken by Lord Jagannath and his brother Lord Balabhadra. [The posters and hoardings saying ‘Swagatam’ with the picture of a beaming Naveen Patnaik alongside, however, did make people wonder whether it was a send-off or a welcome. But that’s a different story.]
It was the kind of delirious display of support that was last seen when the Chief Minister cut short his maiden foreign visit and rushed back to base to assert his authority after the failed coup master-minded by his erstwhile mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra in May, 2012.
While the scenes outside Naveen Nivas on Friday at least had a precedence, what happened at the Third Floor office of the Chief Minister on Thursday was unthinkable. Hordes of people who would otherwise find it hard to get inside the state secretariat, let alone reach the Chief Minister’s Office (out of bounds even for the media), got the opportunity of a lifetime to meet him face-to-face and even tell him how Odisha should fight its case at the tripartite meeting on the Mahanadi water dispute scheduled in New Delhi on Saturday.
The media informed us that representatives of a staggering 115 organisations met the Chief Minister and shared their thoughts on sharing of Mahanadi water on Thursday alone (dozens more apparently shared their views on Wednesday and Friday). Wonder of wonders, he managed to squeeze all this into a span of just a couple of hours!
Coming as it did from a Chief Minister who has not bothered to attend his weekly grievance cell in the last eight years, this gesture of reaching out to the people was certainly praiseworthy. Fittingly enough, the BJD supremo duly thanked all of them for their suggestions before leaving on his ‘Delhi Abhijaan’. But there was no word on what were the suggestions offered by them or how they would be incorporated in the presentation to be made by the Odisha government at Saturday’s meeting.
Anyone can have a view on the Mahanadi dispute and a suggestion to offer on how best Odisha can fight it out to protect the state’s interests. But the names of some of the organizations that supposedly enlightened the Chief Minister on the issue did invite mirth and derision in the social media. Among them were Odisha Petrol Diesel Karmachari Sangah, Tailika Baishya Mahasangha, Baba Biswanath Dumper Owners’ Association and East Coast Breweries Association!
The question that remains unanswered even after the Chief Minister’s departure is this: was this elaborate charade of soliciting public opinion followed by a show of strength that resembled a wild victory celebration really necessary? Would it not have been so much better if the celebrations were kept in abeyance till the meeting was over and Odisha wrested some real concessions from an aggressive Chhattisgarh and a conniving Centre? After all, it is just a matter of 24 hours before everything would become clear and we would know whether we won the battle or lived to fight another day.
No one has a ghost of an idea about what aces the Odisha government has up its sleeves as it sets off for battleground New Delhi. Officials are tight-lipped about what strategies were formulated at the ‘high-level’ meeting chaired by the Chief Minister on Monday. Nor is anyone privy to the contents of the report submitted by the BJD delegation headed by Rajya Sabha MP and former minister Prasanna Acharya that visited the sites of the disputed structures being built by Chhattisgarh on the Mahanadi. Even in his pre-departure statement, all that the Chief Minister said was he was ‘hopeful’ that Odisha would ‘get justice’.
Of course, it is possible that the Odisha government does have a well thought out game plan ready that would win the battle of attrition with the neighbouring government at the meeting. If that indeed is the case, it makes eminent strategic sense for the government not to reveal its contours beforehand.
But what certainly doesn’t make sense is the spectacle that one saw in the Capital before Naveen left for Delhi. If it was meant to refurbish the credentials of the state government and the ruling party on the Mahanadi issue, it was a bad idea. Nothing short of an outright victory (of which the chances are extremely slim) would undo the damage wrought by the revelation that it was sleeping for years even as Chhattisgarh went ahead with a host of projects in the upper reaches of Mahanadi. If anything, the government would end of looking foolish if it is unable to wrest at least a commitment from Chhattisgarh to stop work on all ongoing projects.
The celebrations on Friday were thus rather premature.