By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: Ruling Biju Janata Dal’s lacklustre Lok Sabha performance in western Odisha seems to have rattled chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. The clever politician that he is he has taken immediate corrective measures, one of these being the inclusion of as many as six leaders from the region in his new ministry.
Among these six, Padmanabh Behera, Niranjan Pujari and Susant Singh are old hands while Naba Kishore Das, Tukuni Sahu and Captain Dibya Shankar Mishra have made the cut for the first time. Five of them have been made cabinet ministers.
The choice of ministers sends out a strong message to the electorate in the western part of the state that the government cares for them and is keen to accelerate the area’s growth.
The fact that BJD lost all the five Lok Sabha seats in western Odisha to Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), its main rival in the state, has hurt the party. More so because chief minister, Naveen Patnaik had himself entered the assembly fray from Bijepur, one of the key seats in this region.
Patnaik’s decision to contest from Bijepur along with his traditional seat of Hinjli was a strategic move aimed at boosting his party’s prospects in western Odisha where it was expecting a stiff challenge from BJP which had successfully built up an anti-government movement on issues like farmer suicides and delay in the establishment of a separate High Court bench in the region.
In the event, however, BJD lost the prestigious Bargarh Lok Sabha seat even though chief minister won from the Bijepur assembly segment of the constituency with relative ease. The ruling party’s plan, thus, failed to materialize as far as western Odisha’s Lok Sabha seats are concerned with all the five—Bargarh, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Sundergarh—falling into BJP’s kitty.
There are several reasons for BJP’s Lok Sabha debacle in the region, most important of these being the phenomenon of split voting witnessed in the state on this scale perhaps for the first time. With a perceptive under-current in favour of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in this belt large chunks of the electorate voted in favour of BJP candidates in the Lok Sabha while continuing to show their preference for chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and his party in the state assembly.
But there were also other factors like a general feeling of neglect among the electorate who have had a long grouse against the leaders of the coastal region who, they think, have deliberately conspired to keep western Odisha backward. This feeling stems from lop-sided growth of the state which is heavily tilted in favour of coastal districts.
Regional imbalance spawns regional hatred and results in separatist slogans like the demand for a separate Koshal state by a section of people in western Odisha. Though fortunately for the government this demand is yet to receive mass endorsement, the signs are ominous. The government would do better to take immediate corrective steps and redresses the balance of development in the state. For the chief minister that seems to be the right strategy to adopt if he wants to checkmate the BJP in western Odisha.