Op-Ed: Hype Over Mahanadi and Special Category Demand Seems Unreal

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: On the eve of the elections, chief minister Naveen Patnaik had declared that the demand for special category status to Odisha would be a major poll issue. His party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), had also sought to highlight state’s dispute with neighbouring Chhattisgarh over the sharing of Mahanadi waters in the hope of striking a chord with the voters.

On the ground, however, neither the demand for special category status nor the Mahanadi dispute appear to be an issue with the people. Surprisingly, the fracas over the distribution of Mahanadi waters is not being discussed much by people even in constituencies like Sambalpur and Bargarh which are fed by the river.

Mahanadi, the state’s mightiest river, is also the lifeline of people in several other districts but common people everywhere appear rather indifferent to the issue, focussing more on their day today problems. One has to prod farmers and fishermen living along the banks of the river to elicit a reply to queries like whether the dams and barrages allegedly built unilaterally by the neighbouring Chhattisgarh government have actually hit the flow of the river on Odisha side and if this is really affecting their lives.

This is in sharp contrast to the hype created on the issue by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which had organised a Mahanadi yatra to highlight the injustice done to Odisha by Chhattisgarh. If injustice has indeed been done to Odisha it is being discussed only by the so-called intellectuals in air-conditioned rooms and conference halls. Neither they nor the political parties seeking to turn it into an election plank have been able to sensitize common people on the issue, at least to the extent where it would dictate their voting preferences.

The same could also be said of the much-hyped issue of special category state status to Odisha. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his party leaders have been trying their best to rouse regional sentiments over the Centre’s denial of this status to the state which is supposed to be crucial to fast-tracking its development. The ruling BJD has sought to turn it into a Centre versus the state debate, hoping to dent the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders.

The saffron party leaders, on the other hand, are categorical that BJD is making false propaganda as special category issue has become irrelevant with Centre’s focus now on special funds for states in dire need of financial assistance. Some of their leaders also point out that even in the past, when this demand had some relevance, Odisha did not qualify for this status as it did not meet the required criteria, one of these being an international border which the state lacks.

Thus, the hype surrounding both these issues—Mahanadi dispute and special category status—seems rather contrived. The ruling party may be trying to link these issues to Odia pride in its bid to whip up regional passions but people, by and large, appear to have cold shouldered them. This is the reality.

(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)