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Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The very fact that chief minister, Naveen Patnaik felt the need to clarify his party’s stand on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) demonstrates his insecurity vis-à-vis the Muslim votes in the wake of his party’s support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the parliament.

Muslims, who constitute a sizeable vote bank and have been consistent in their support for Biju Janata Dal (BJD), sticking with it even during the period when it ruled the state in tandem with the BJP, had felt betrayed by its stand on CAB which has since become an Act.

Soon after CAB passed the Rajya Sabha test with the support of parties like BJD Patnaik mounted a damage control exercise, assuring a delegation of Muslim leaders that the community had nothing to fear either from CAA or the NRC. But the damage had been done and Muslims, by and large, did not feel satisfied with his assurance. They were beginning to question the secular credentials of Patnaik and his party.

So when Patnaik asserted that his party did not support the NRC he was basically addressing his Muslim constituency which he is keen to retain. While his argument that BJD backed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 because it had nothing to do with the citizens of India appears specious and seeks to gloss over the fact that it discriminates on the grounds religion there is no denying his anxiety about losing his Muslim support base.

The alienation of Muslims will not only be a loss in terms of votes it will also send a negative message about the image of BJD which has been named after Biju Patnaik, father of Naveen and a leader with impeccable secular credentials. The chief minister had himself called off his 11-year-old alliance with the BJP in 2009 in what was seen as a bid to redeem his secular image that had been sullied by his association with the saffron party.

But then what were the compulsions that made him support the CAA despite being aware that this would antagonise the Muslims? One obvious reason could be the need for generous assistance from the Centre to bail the state out of a tight financial situation. His government has launched a string of welfare schemes which it is finding hard to sustain on its own. Having reaped rich electoral dividends from these schemes he can ill-afford to discontinue or even run them down. The reactions to the scaling down of state assistance to farmers under the KALIA scheme show that the government can make such moves at its own peril.

Hence being on the right side of the BJP-led NDA government has become a political necessity for Patnaik. Fortunately for him with the NDA still not having the right numbers in the Rajya Sabha Odisha chief minister can hope to extract significant concessions from the Centre in return for his support. But the support he must even at the risk of occasionally ruffling the minority community feathers. He has taken such a risk by extending support to CAA. Whether or not he can keep his Muslim vote bank intact remains to be seen.

(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)

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