Pradeep Pattanayak

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his interview with a national news channel and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the party’s National President JP Nadda in their speeches at public meetings have mentioned that the Odia language and Odisha’s asmita (pride) are under threat. This has now created ripples in state politics and is quickly snowballing into one of the biggest poll issues in Odisha. 

The state was formed as a language-based independent state in 1936, and since then, it is for the first time that language, literature and culture are going to dominate the poll narrative. 

“We feel proud of our language. Our state’s language is the only language which has a 200-year-old history and heritage and it has been accorded classical language status. We can feel proud of our state’s language as well as its rich heritage. But it is being seen that some people misconstrue the word asmita. They think it means individualism, which it is not,” said noted litterateur Asit Mohanty. 

Also Read: Odisha Elections 2024: No candidates announced for Nilagiri seat; aspirants on tenterhooks 

Similarly, noted writer Haraprasad Das said, “Our ‘astitwa’ has been jeopardised because we are weak in history, culture and literature.  And, to get rid of the weak, we have to fight every moment to establish our own language and ‘astitwa’.” 

The issue of ‘Odia Asmita’ is said to have its genesis in VK Pandian’s power augmentation and the process of making him Naveen’s undeclared successor. Many believe that Pandian's influence as a non-Odia officer in the Naveen Patnaik government, like a political leader, his visits to districts and collection of grievances, his felicitation at meetings, his sitting alone on the dais by snubbing leaders, engaging contractors of other states contributed to the issue.
Similarly, the issue of Odia culture cropped up from anti-Lord Jagannath activities. Issues like destroying mutts in the name of the heritage project, Arpan rath, and the Kamia Jani-Srimandir-Beef controversy and forcing devotees to undergo hardship by closing four gates of Srimandir also put the government in a tight spot. 

With these issues being discussed more at the ground level than in political corridors, BJP has decided to make ‘Odia Asmita’ its main poll plank. 
“Odia Asmita, language, civilisation and culture have been attacked. We have to save language, civilisation and culture. So a change is required here,” said BJP’s Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi. 

“He (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) has appealed to the voters of Odisha through his interview. The sign is quite evident that the people’s love and faith in Modiji will convert into votes,” observed Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. 

Taking the side of his government, BJD leader Ranendra Pratap Swain said, “People know well who went to the Supreme Court to stop the Lord Jagannath’s prakalpa. The transformation work started at the Lord Jagannath temple and later all the shrines were transformed by Naveen Patnaik. He is a silent worker.”  

“This is being discussed as an issue among the educated people. The issue will be in discussion as long as the public impression is there that the Chief Minister is perhaps introducing VK Pandian as his successor,” said Rabi Das, a political analyst. 

“I feel it will be an insult to our ‘swabhiman’ if someone forces a non-Odia on us and expects we will accept him,” said Sandeep Sahu, a political analyst.

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