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Column: Enemies Before Polls, KALIA, KISAN Now Bhai Bhai

By Sandeep Sahu

So, the ‘game changer’ has turned into a ‘game spoiler’! Of course, it was too good to last and had to unravel at some stage. After all, the outgo from the state exchequer on account of just the first six monthly installment of Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) alone was worth Rs 2, 552 crore, a huge amount in a state as cash-strapped as Odisha. To put things in perspective, it is well over half the total excise revenue sought to be earned by the Naveen Patnaik government, even at the cost of earning all-round condemnation for its missionary zeal to promote alcohol, in the 2019-2020 fiscal!

The first signs that the BJD government was developing cold feet over the scheme, which earned such rich electoral dividends for the party in the last elections, were visible almost as soon as it began its fifth consecutive innings. First, BJD MPs strongly pitched for the merger of KALIA and PM-KISAN in the very first session of the new Lok Sabha after the elections. This was in sharp contrast to how it had seen the latter before the election. In the run up to the elections, the ruling party had gone hammer and tongs at the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for failing to include the landless among its beneficiaries and for the ‘meagre’ amount (Rs 6, 000 a year) given under the scheme. PM-KISAN is no match for KALIA, it announced pompously. It also lambasted the Modi government for ‘conspiring’ to hold up the second installment of KALIA through the misuse of the Election Commission.

The second sign was even more tell-tale. Having announced before the election that it would disburse the second tranche of KALIA, held up because of the election code of conduct in force at the time, on the very first day the new government assumes office, the government now just doesn’t know where the money would come from. As per figures revealed by Agriculture minister Dr. Arun Sahoo in the just concluded winter session, only 10 lakh out of 52.05 lakh beneficiaries have received the second tranche of KALIA assistance so far.

How things have changed in just six months flat! The same Naveen government, which saw no merit in the PM-KISAN before the election, has now decided to merge KALIA with it. The cabinet has already approved the proposal and it’s now just a matter of time before the merger becomes a fait accompli. After the merger, the state government would now have to fork out just Rs 4, 000 a year, instead of Rs. 10, 000 as it would have done under KALIA – the rest coming by way of the ‘meagre’ assistance under the PM-KISAN scheme! The BJD’s own words have now come back to haunt it. Having pilloried the Centre for excluding the landless, it is now left carrying the can and has no option but to continue paying Rs. 12, 500 a year to the 14, 70, 000 landless families engaged in farming for three years.

The farmers of the state must be feeling cheated. After all, they would now get just Rs 10, 000 a year instead of Rs 16, 000 (Rs. 10, 000 under KALIA+Rs. 6, 000 under PM-KISAN). But there is little they can do about it. They can punish the government, if at all, for the breach of trust only in 2024, a long way to go. And one can trust the Naveen Patnaik government to come with another mouth-watering scheme on the eve of the election and laugh all the way to the (vote) bank!

KALIA, however, is not the only example of the cynical exploitation of voter sentiment by the ruling BJD. The Naveen Patnaik government now sees merit in the Ayushman scheme of health insurance launched by the Modi government, the river linking project, the coastal highway project … you name it. Of course, to be fair to Naveen, he is not alone in this cynical, make-belief game. Narendra Modi can certainly give him a run for his money when it comes to hoodwinking voters. After successfully pushing a false narrative during the election campaign that his party was determined to ‘uproot’ the Naveen Patnaik government from the soil of Odisha, he suddenly became his supposed adversary’s best friend after the elections, even getting him to back his candidate for a Rajya Sabha seat the BJD was set to win hands down!

Not just Modi and Naveen, every political leader worth his salt is now a past master in the ‘art’ of leading the voters up the garden path and then leaving him in the lurch as soon as elections are over. If the voters cannot see through their cynical games, it is their fault – not the leaders’!

(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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