Op-Ed: BJD’s Support For RTI Bill Raises Eyebrows

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has once again come to the rescue of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. Its support proved crucial to the passage of the controversial Right to Information (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Interestingly, two other regional parties–Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the YSR Congress—also lent NDA a helping hand.

The Bill was being opposed by rights activists and several parties led by the Congress. They wanted it referred to the select committee but for that the support of parties like BJD, which initially appeared to have reservations about the Bill, was a must. But that did not happen.

There is intense speculation over why BJD decided to side with the Modi government on the issue. It is being said that Prime Minister personally spoke to chief minister, Naveen Patnaik to secure his party’s support. Irrespective of whether such claims are true or not what seems certain is that there has been a significant change in BJD’s attitude towards the BJP since the results of the recent assembly and Lok Sabha elections were announced. The regional party, despite its avowed policy of maintaining equidistance from BJP and Congress, seems to be tilting towards the saffron outfit.

The bonhomie between the two sides has been quite visible since the June meeting between Patnaik and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in Delhi where a slew of Odisha related issues including the demand for special category status for the state were discussed. Odisha chief minister took political observers by complete surprise when he extended support to BJP candidate, former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav in the Rajya Sabha by-poll from the state apparently at the request of Modi and his lieutenant-in-chief, union home minister, Amit Shah.

It was a huge sacrifice considering that BJD, which enjoys a brute majority in the state assembly, could easily have won all the three Rajya Sabha seats at stake. But it gifted one to the BJP which is still a few seats short of a majority in the Parliament’s Upper House.

Politics being a selfish game such developments are bound to trigger speculation about a quid pro quo deal. Odisha, among other things, is supposed to get generous assistance from the Centre for restoration work in the districts devastated by cyclone Fani and required help to create a Vidhan Parishad to make the state legislature bi-cameral, a move which has been in the works for past sometime.

On the other hand there have been some embarrassing developments for Odisha. The state suffered a major blow with the Centre recently deciding to grant a two-year extension for work on the controversial Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh which the Naveen Patnaik has been opposing tooth and nail. The chief minister has even written a letter to Modi in this regard reiterating the state’s objections to the project which threatens to inundate several villages in the tribal-dominated Malkangiri district.

Yet another setback for the state was minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur’s recent statement in the Lok Sabha that the Centre was not considering any proposal to grant special category status to Odisha. Considering that the demand was a major campaign issue for the BJD in the recent elections and the chief minister had also raised it with the Prime Minister at their meeting in June Thakur’s reply must have left a few red faces in the state’s ruling establishment.

Given this backdrop there is certainly more than meets the eye to BJD’s support for Modi government on crucial issues such as the passage of Right to Information (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

(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.)