Sandeep Sahu

A large section of people in Odisha have been resisting and opposing any talk of a regime change in the state. Their contention: the ‘remedy’ that the pro-changers are seeking would prove worse than the disease itself. Shorn of the semantics, what in means in effect is this: while there is a lot that is wrong with the Naveen Patnaik government, a BJP government in the state would be a complete disaster.

One member of the ‘no change’ brigade, a good friend, put it rather evocatively: “There are some pests here and there in the branches and leaves that can be taken care of only if the ‘tree’ survives”! But the friend obviously did not take into account the fact that even pests, if allowed to fester for too long, have the potential to kill the tree from inside, without any external intervention. And 24 years is a long time by any reckoning for pests to devour the ‘tree’!

It has to be said though that the ‘no changers’ are not a homogenous group. Some. Like this friend, resist change simply because they consider the BJP a monster and an evil incarnate that can gobble up the ‘tree’ by stoking the fires of communal frenzy and turn the peaceful state into a communal cauldron. They feel continuation of the Naveen regime is the best guarantee against the BJP coming to power and spreading its ‘poisonous tentacles’ in the idyllic state. They tend to forget that Naveen and the party he heads are both creations of the very same BJP, which has been steadily spreading its ‘tentacles’ right under the watch of the Naveen regime. From a meagre 15.05% in 2009 after Naveen unilaterally called off the alliance with the ‘monster’, the latter increased its vote share to 32.49% in 2019. Its rise in the Lok Sabha elections has been even more spectacular. The party that drew a blank in 2009 Lok Sabha elections after the snub from BJD in 2009 won as many as eight out of the 21 seats in the state, raising its vote share to 38.4%, just 4.4% below the BJD’s 42.8%. If reports from the ground are anything to go by, the party is set to increase its vote share both in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections even further this time. So much for keeping the BJP at bay!

Then there are the status quoists, who resist any change in any sphere – not just in politics - out of a fear of the unknown. They are not opposed to BJP per se; but they would rather stay with what they have, warts and all, than try out something new. They would quote the oft-quoted “A known devil is better than an unknown angel” when asked whether a change is due after 24 years. Risk taking is not something that comes naturally to this section of people.

Then there is a third section of the ‘no change’ fraternity that is not only the most numerous, but also puts up the fiercest resistance to a regime change. It consists of the large number of beneficiaries of the patronage ecosystem that Naveen has built up so painstakingly in his long rule. They are spread over several fields and professions; the mines mafia, the wheelers and dealers, beneficiaries of government largesse, the 70-lakh strong Mission Shakti army of women SHGs, writers, journalists, intellectuals .. you name it.           

Interestingly, all three sections cite the same reasons to justify their stubborn resistance to the BJP coming to power - corruption, authoritarianism, misuse of government agencies, emasculation of all democratic institutions, fudging of data and statistics to build a misleading narrative of all-round prosperity; curtailment of freedom of speech and expression by the Modi government – conveniently forgetting that the Naveen government is guilty of all of these and more. They are so focused on BJP, Modi and the Sangh that they pay little attention to what is happening in their own backyard. They lose sight of – or deliberately shut their eyes to – how the state is fast turning into an autocracy; how control of the rich mineral resources of the state has been quietly handed over to non-Odia businessmen;  how institutionalised, large scale corruption is eating into the vitals of the state; how the lines between the party and the government have completely dissolved (not just blurred); how the entire bureaucracy, from the top to the bottom, has been systematically turned into an extension of the ruling party even as elected representatives, including cabinet ministers, have been rendered completely irrelevant; how the state Assembly, the supposed ‘temple of democracy’, has been turned into a plaything of the ruling party; how the media has been muzzled and made to grovel with a policy of carrot and stick; how a party supposedly formed to protect and promote interests of Odias has systematically ejected Odias from all positions of power and installed non-Odias in key places; how the standard of education has nosedived even as the government has built physical infrastructure under its school transformation programme; how elementary health care has proved increasingly elusive for the people at the grassroots level even as the government tom-toms the Biju Sawsthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY); how the Odia language has suffered in the current regime headed by a person who has stubbornly refused to speak the language even after 24 years as Chief Minister. The list can go on and on.

The wounds inflicted on the body politic by the long running Naveen regime are festering. With control over the party and the government passing on from the supremo to his chosen deputy, things can only worsen in the next term if the BJD, as expected, wins a sixth straight term. But the proponents of the ‘lesser evil’ theory would rather look the other way and pretend that all is well with the state.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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.)

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