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Column: Patnaik’s Polavaram Test

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By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Polavaram dispute is going to put the renewed friendship between BJP and the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to a severe test. The multi-purpose project coming up in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh that threatens to submerge several tribal villages in Odisha’s Malkangiri district was granted a two-year work extension by the Centre a few months ago overlooking the objections of BJD government.

The letter written by Patnaik to the Prime Minister seeking stoppage of project work till his government’s concerns on the issue were addressed has failed to produce any desirable result. In short stalemate between Odisha government, Andhra Pradesh and the Centre over Polavaram continues.

Now with the dispute back in focus following protests by several organisations from Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, the states likely to be affected by the project, the pressure will mount on Patnaik to act decisively to protect the interests of his own state. He can also expect support from his counterparts in Chhatisgarh and Telangana who, like Odisha, have been opposing Polavaram in its present form.

Protests within Andhra Pradesh are being led by some organisations which are, one can easily surmise, out of favour with the state’s incumbent chief minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy who is aggressively pushing the project like his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu.  What is significant is that Reddy like Naveen Patnaik is a fence-sitter who is trying to extract maximum possible concessions from Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in return for his party’s support to the NDA government which is still short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

Odisha chief minister, too, has extended his hand of friendship towards Prime Minister Modi in the hope of protecting the interests of his state. In the last few months, his party has backed the NDA wholeheartedly on a number of significant issues including the revocation of article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.

But the expectations of Patnaik from Prime Minister, Narendra Modi are yet to be realized to the full. While he has succeeded in securing generous financial support from the Centre for rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the districts battered by cyclone Fani a few months ago he has clearly not been as successful in persuading the Prime Minister to stop work on Polavaram.

But this failure can cost Patnaik politically as it would send wrong signals to his voters in Malkangiri in particular and the state’s tribal belt in general. With Polavaram project threatening the existence of several tribal hamlets in Malkangiri, it has become a sensitive issue for tribals not only in Malkangiri but across the state. Patnaik can ill-afford to be seen as not being able to protect their cause.

This is the reason why the union environment ministry’s decision to grant a two-year extension for the construction of Polavaram multi-purpose project continues to rankle Patnaik. Much to his discomfiture, the development had come within days of his party extending support to BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate, former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav who was elected to the Upper House from Odisha with consummate ease. There could be a further embarrassment in store for Patnaik if he fails to secure the state’s interest on Polavaram now.

(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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