Op-Ed: Naveen the Event Manager Par Excellence

Had he not been forced by circumstances to enter politics, Naveen Patnaik could certainly have made a great career in event management. The longest serving Odisha Chief Minister has few competitors among contemporary politicians when it comes to conceiving an out of box idea, staging a spectacle to showcase it and making sure that it derives the maximum possible mileage from the event. (The one politician who comes closest to him is Prime Minister Narendra Modi!)

It was no different on Monday when he launched in Chhatrapur what is touted to be the ‘world’s largest’ such programme to give land rights to slum dwellers living in urban areas of the state. The atmospherics were just perfect. The presence of Tata Group patriarch Ratan Tata and internationally acclaimed British born architect Lord Norman Foster on the dais provided the event just the kind of star presence that it needed to get the eyeballs. And both Tata and Lord Foster made just the kind of noises that would have been music to their generous host’s ears. The former described the occasion as an ‘earth shaking’ moment while the latter went into raptures over the ‘progressive Chief Minister in India’ who had come with a ‘radical legislation’. So daazled was everyone with the presence of the two international celebrities that the sheer impropriety of two people who have nothing to do with the government handing over land pattas to beneficiaries did not bother anyone! (May be they thought their association with the Odisha Liveable Habitats Mission, which was also launched on the occasion, entitled them to share the honours with the Chief Minister who, in any case, would have found handing over pattas to 2000 people an arduous task!)

Full page colour advertisements on the front pages of all newspapers ensured that the event got the kind of treatment that is normally reserved only for visits by the President and Prime Minister. It also saw to it that criticism by the opposition and other stakeholders, while not blacked out altogether, was relegated to the inside pages. The ad released was worded perfectly to showcase the government’s ‘bleeding heart’ for these important ‘stakeholders’ of urban living.

Also read: Op-Ed: The Pretence of ‘Reviving’ Kalinga Studios Must Stop

Let us forget for a moment the event itself and focus on whether the ambitious target of providing pattas to one lakh slum dwelling families by end of June and another one lakh by the year end is a realistic target given the government’s record in achieving targets in other welfare schemes. Take the examples of any scheme – providing pucca houses for all Anganwadi centres; toilets, electricity and drinking water facilities in all schools or housing for all; compensating small investors who lost their lifetime’s savings in the Ponzi scam – and it becomes crystal clear that the deadlines for achieving the targets have kept getting extended year after year. And there is no plausible reason to believe that it would be any different in the case of providing land to ALL slum dwellers in the state by the year end.

Even if the government fails to meet the December, 2018 deadline, it would have served the purpose for which it was conceived in the first place. The municipal elections are due in the next few months – and the simultaneous polls for the Assembly and Lok Sabha a few months after that – and we can trust the ruling party to squeeze every possible ounce of mileage out of the scheme to woo the slum dwelling voters. Those who miss out on getting pattas this year can always be trusted to vote the BJD back to power lest they miss out on the opportunity altogether.

On the basis of past experience, there are genuine fears that the benefits of the scheme would be cornered by workers, supporters and sympathisers of the ruling party. One just has to remember the Chairperson of the Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) having to leave in disgrace after being found to have usurped a BPL card for herself. Or the enterprising Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) corporator, who was found to have pilfered no less than seven houses given out in the capital city under an earlier urban housing project in the name of her family members.

Just about the only silver lining in the scheme is the fact that it recognises the rights of slum dwellers, who till the other day were being treated as pariahs, to live in dignity rather than live in constant fear of demolition and eviction. Hopefully, it would provide some much needed rest to the bulldozers and JCBs of municipal authorities. And result in a few less litigations in the courts!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)