Op-Ed: A Cry For Change

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Change has been the cry in this election in Odisha. It has been the refrain of voters in a majority of constituencies. The obvious implication of this is that anti-incumbency factor has come into play in the state for the first time since chief minister, Naveen Patnaik took up the reins of government in 2000.

In the three elections that the state has seen after that anti-incumbency has never been a factor. Instead Patnaik has been winning elections with consummate ease. The last election, in fact, saw Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) getting a brute majority in the state assembly. The party also won 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

With his popularity at its peak Patnaik was often described as the only chief minister of the country who had turned anti-incumbency on its head. His party leaders jokingly coined a new term, “ pro-incumbency.” Patnaik appeared invincible.

The opposition tried every trick in its bag. It hurled corruption allegations against him and lampooned his poor knowledge of Odia, the official language of the state. However, nothing succeeded. While corruption charges did not stick, people just ignored the criticism of his Odia. Opposition’s sustained campaign notwithstanding his popularity remained undiminished.

Then came scandals like chit fund and mining scam. More than mining scam it was the chit fund scandal which made common people wince and realize for the first time that corruption by ruling party leaders was actually impacting their lives. In a damage control exercise the state government appointed a commission to look into the issue and also announced other measures to compensate the investors, especially the small investors.

There were also other instances of corruption that began to pinch common people. Notwithstanding the fact that chief minister’s own image as an honest politician was intact his government’s popularity was beginning to dip.

Then there were crucial developments on the party front for the chief minister who, in his bid to control everything, found his grip slipping on the BJD where new equations were emerging. The ruling party suffered a big blow when influential leaders like Baijayant Panda and Damodar Rout quit and joined the BJP.

The BJP, which has been short of big names in the state, welcomed them with open arms. The need was mutual. Together they launched a brutal assault on the government, exposing its weaknesses and the shortcomings of some of its most vaunted welfare schemes.

In the meantime, some of these schemes like KALIA, meant for small farmers and share-croppers, floundered because of a variety of factors, some beyond the control of the state government. Despite assurances from the chief minister that remaining instalments of KALIA would be released soon after his government is voted back to power the vast farming community of the state seems far from convinced.

While this is bound to adversely affect the ruling party’s prospects in a large number of constituencies there are other issues which have taken a toll on the BJD’s image. That explains the cry for change this time. But whether a change actually takes place or not would also depend a lot on the strength of the opposition.

(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.)