Op-Ed: Bid to brush Dama’s charges under the carpet would be disastrous for BJD

For well over a week now, the state has been riveted on the unseemly round of charges and counter charges between expelled BJD leader Dr. Damodar Rout and his former party. While this was entirely expected, what has come as a surprise is the viciousness with which both sides have been aiming their barbs at each other. The ongoing no-holds-barred character assassination has already plumbed into the depths of political discourse. With the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ having already been breached several months ahead of elections, one shudders to think what lies ahead.

In the din generated by the slugfest between erstwhile allies, the issue that earned Dama Babu his expulsion – namely serious corruption charges against the Agriculture and Cooperation departments – has been given a quiet burial. Instead, both sides are busy throwing mud at each other in the fond hope that at least some of it would stick.

Puzzlingly, corruption during the 18 years of the Naveen Patnaik government, which includes such mega scandals as the mining scam, worth at least Rs 60, 000 crores according to the Justice MB Shah Commission, has never really been an issue in the last three elections. Even the multi thousand crore chit fund scam which, unlike the mining scam, directly robbed the people, failed to get any traction in the election. There could be two reasons for this apathy of the electorate to an issue which, in the normal course, should have swayed the voters. First, Naveen has managed public perception much better than the Opposition, which has failed miserably to cash in on an issue that would have paid rich political dividends. Second, the ‘poor’ in the state – who now constitute over 75% of the electorate in official records – are too busy counting their blessings in the form of Re 1 a kg rice, free housing and medicare to bother about corruption in the government.

In this background, it remains to be seen if Dama Rout would succeed where others have failed. Of course, he has the right credentials to take on the BJD, its supremo and its government. After all, he was one of the closest aides of Biju Patnaik, in whose name the BJD has been formed and has been ruling for nearly two decades. Besides, he has been a minister for the better part of the last 18 years and is thus privy to many murky details in the Naveen Patnaik government. Hence, he can back his charges with irrefutable facts unlike the Opposition, which has resorted to half baked allegations, innuendo and insinuation. If he succeeds in bringing corruption centre stage in this election, he could inflict greater damage on Naveen than the Opposition has been able to do so far.

Already, there are unmistakable signs that the BJD is perturbed at the traction Dama Babu’s charges is getting, both in the media and the mind of the average voter. That is why there is an orchestrated effort to discredit him in the public eye with the likes of Surjya Patro and Samir Dash ferreting out alleged skeletons in his cupboard. By the looks of it, it is certain that the search for more skeletons is on in right earnest and would continue to tumble out one by one in the run up to the elections. The BJD appears to have realized well that it would be harder to brush aside Dama Rout’s allegations than the ones leveled by the Congress and the BJP earlier. May be it knows that delving into these corruption cases could throw up some skeletons in its own cupboard. That is why the ruling party, instead of answering the charges or initiating an investigation into them, has embarked on a vilification campaign against him.

Seasoned player that he is, Dama Babu could not have been oblivious of the implications of what he was doing just before being expelled from the party. Going by his response to the charges leveled by Patro and Dash today, he appears to have braced well for such a response from his erstwhile party. He has two things going for him at this stage. One, the charges leveled against him – allotting a ‘disproportionate’ share of the 93 liquor shops sanctioned during his stint as Excise minister to his home district and constituency Paradip and an office of the Small Industries department renting his son-in-law’s house at an ‘exorbitant’ rate of Rs. 50, 000 per month – are too frivolous to nullify the gravity of the charges he has brought against the government. [Of course, it is entirely possible that charges of a more serious nature could be raked up against him in the days ahead.] And two, the timing of the action against him. He could have been sacked when he made objectionable comments first against Dalits, then anganwadi workers and finally against Brahmins and everyone would have taken it as ‘just desserts’ for the motor mouth leader. But in acting when it did – after he raised corruption charges against the government – the BJD has played into his hands. It has allowed him to go to the people with the refrain that he was expelled because he raised those charges. And it is certain to have some credibility.

The ruling party would be committing a serious error of judgment if it believes that the allegations made by Dama Babu would vanish into thin air like all previous charges have done. If it really wants to limit the damage potential of Dama, the Chief Minister must order an impartial inquiry into his charges. Attempts to brush Dama Babu’s charges under the carpet could prove disastrous for the party.

(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)