Himansu Shekhar Rout

‘Odia Asmita’ (Odia pride) is seemingly becoming a major poll plank in the 2024 elections in Odisha, as top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state have repeatedly been raising this issue to corner the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD). 

On the foundation day of the BJP on Saturday, the Cuttack Parliamentary Constituency candidate launched a biting and veiled attack on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

In his acerbic attack on the government, he said, “The issue is revival and restoration of Odia pride. Many people are asking about the meaning of pride. We all feel proud of Lord Jagannath, Konark and other aspects. We all should also feel proud of the Odia language... Odia pride cannot be restored if one reads Odia speech written in Roman script.” 

He made it clear that the Odia pride will certainly be the key agenda of the party in the upcoming elections.

The tone and tenor of a recent social media post by Odisha BJP chief Manmohan Samal on March 14 reflected the same issue – Odia Asmita, Odisha Gourav (glory) and larger interests of the Odia people. He said, "Odisha will have the BJP government here. We will go to the people taking Odia Asmita as a poll issue.” 

In line with this post, former Berhampur MP and BJP leader, Sidhant Mohapatra had targeted the BJD government and the Chief Minister on the same issue on April 4. “If I am unable to speak Odia or I have no love and care for my mother tongue, then how I could protect my Odia Asmita and swabhiman?” he had asked.

On Friday, the same issue was stoked by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan who uploaded a post on social media pointing out media reports that Machhakund and some other fringe areas are missing from the Odisha map. He lampooned the state government on the ‘Odia Asmita’ issue. 

“It is a matter of grave concern that the state government lacks sensitivity and seriousness in exploring solutions to such issues related to Odisha’s territory. Is this the transformation brought by the 25-year rule of the government,” he asked in the post.

Besides, for a long time, the government has been facing flak from opposition parties who have been accusing the former of promoting the hegemony of non-Odia bureaucrats in the government functioning. More humiliating for the government was the ‘mispronunciation’ of ‘Kanta Kabi’ as ‘Kantha Kabi’ at the World Odia Conference. This ‘grave error’ triggered state-wide angry reactions from various quarters. 

It seems the BJP has found an opportune time to make Odia Asmita a key issue against the government.       

Senor journalist, Rabi Das said, "Odia people may be unhappy over VK Pandian’s activities, but if the Opposition wants to counter the government on Odia Asmita, one of them has to come out as a symbol of Odia Asmita.”

Senior journalist, Rajaram Satpathy said, "The issue of Odia Swabhiman came out first from the mouths of the common people before it was uttered by political leaders. Political parties have now picked up the word. The Chief Minister has been ruling the state without Opposition. He reads out from draft and never speaks extempore in Odia.”

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