Op-Ed: Image Building, Naveen Patnaik Style

It is easy to see that the Opposition description of the second edition of ‘Make in Odisha’ jamboree, which got underway in Bhubaneswar on Sunday evening, as nothing more than ‘event management’ and an image building exercise ahead of the elections due in the next few months was motivated by politics. But the progress – or, rather the lack of it – of the 124 investment proposals received during the first edition of the marquee event leaves little room for doubt that there is a grain of truth in the Opposition charge. After all, by the government’s own admission, just three of the industrial proposals received in ‘Make in Odisha’, 2016 have began production in the two years since then while 64 have not moved beyond the ‘bhoomi puja’ stage which, as everyone knows, amounts to precious little in tangible terms.

Of course, one can certainly argue that the Naveen Patnaik government could not possibly have timed the first edition of ‘Make in Odisha’ to such perfection that the second would happen just before the 2019 polls. If that was the case, the government should be credited rather than ridiculed for planning things so far ahead, unlike other governments that wake up just before elections. But then the gap between rhetoric and actual achievement on the ground is so vast that it is hard to give the government the benefit of doubt in this case.

After receiving proposals worth Rs. 2 lakh crores in 2016, one would have expected the government to pull up its socks and do all it could to remove bottlenecks that are holding up industrialization in this resource rich state. But what has happened is the exact opposite. At seven in the list of states in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in 2016, Odisha has now slipped to 14!

Forget the fact that two of the biggest investment proposals – the Rs. 52, 000 crore Posco steel plant in Paradip by Posco, described as the ‘biggest single FDI in the country’ at the time, and the Rs. 40, 000 crore Arcelor-Mittal steel plant at Patna in iron ore rich Keonjhar – have now been shelved. But the experience of industrial units that have already set up shop in the state does not inspire much confidence that the promises the government is making to attract fresh investment would be kept. One can attribute the manufactured unrest at the Therubali plant of IMFA as a fall out of the BJD’s ongoing battle of attrition with former MP Baijyant ‘Jay’ Panda. But the allegation by Purushottam Kandoi, President of the Kalinganagar Industry Association and the All Odisha Steel Federation, that ruling party leaders are behaving like ‘owners’, treating industry owners like their ‘servants’ and creating all kinds of problems for industries in this steel hub cannot be dismissed so easily.

Exactly 13 days after the ‘Make in Odisha’ conclave gets over, Bhubaneswar will host yet another showpiece event: the Hockey World Cup. In an unprecedented move in March this year, the Odisha government announced its decision to sponsor the Indian hockey team for the next five years at an estimated cost of Rs. 150 crore. If the idea behind the hosting of the World Cup was to consolidate the position of Odisha’s capital city as the newest hockey hub in the country, the sponsorship deal was aimed at establishing the Naveen government’s credentials as the biggest promoter of India’s ‘unofficial’ National Game.

But the important question is: will the twin decisions of hosting the Hockey World Cup and signing the sponsorship deal with Hockey India help in the promotion of the game in the state? The answer, I am afraid, has to be in the negative. While it’s true that there is tremendous enthusiasm among the people about this mega sporting event, who rarely get to see international sporting events, the bitter truth is that hockey in Odisha still remains largely confined to Sundargarh, which has produced some of the finest players of the game like Dillip Tirkey, Lazarus Barla, Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas, Sunita Kulu, Lilima Minz and many others. The least the government could have done to give due recognition to this cradle of the game was to allot at least some of the matches of the World Cup to Rourkela, which had an astro turf long before the Kalinga Stadium, the sole venue for the 2018 Cup, had one. This would have also eased the pressure of finding decent accommodation in Bhubaneswar for the thousands of players, officials and fans expected to descend in the capital for the event.

As for the sponsorship deal, it would not do anything for hockey or its players in Odisha. No player from the state would get a paisa nor would new stadiums be built with the Rs. 150 crore to be spent on the deal. All it would achieve is to provide some mileage to the Naveen Patnaik government as the ‘messiah’ of hockey, something that can be sold to the voters as proof of its determination to promote the game at election time.

The hard reality is the political scenario today is vastly different from what it was in 2014, when Naveen romped home with a stupendous majority of 117 in a 147-strong Assembly, besides winning 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. A host of scams – including the mining, chit fund, housing and sundry other scams – have taken their toll on Naveen’s carefully constructed image as ‘Mr. Clean’ while hundreds of farmers’ suicides, rapes/gang rapes and political killings have put a serious question over Naveen’s credentials as the ‘Best Administrator’.

With a cock-a-hoop BJP and a resurgent Congress constantly breathing down his neck, the BJD supremo must be hoping that the twin mega events would help wash away some of the blots that make it a tough battle for him in 2019.

(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)