Op-Ed: Local issues pushed back by the image clash between Modi and Naveen

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Unfortunate as it may seem important local issues appear to have taken a back seat in this election which is primarily being seen as an image clash between Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and chief minister, Naveen Patnaik.

If Patnaik is the champion of Odia pride and the messiah of the poor having launched a raft of welfare schemes for the deprived and the underprivileged, Modi is the epitome of what a national leader should be like—strong, determined and caring at the same time. These two leaders dominate the campaign and also the political discourse in the state. Their posters and banners are most numerous in towns and villages across the state.

For all practical purposes it seems to be turning into a personality clash between Modi and Naveen. This is unfortunate for irrespective of the fact that they happen to be the top leaders of their respective parties their dominance has pushed several important local issues into the background.

Take for example the case of Aska where the chief minister has handpicked 68-year-old self help group (SHG) leader, Pramila Bisoi as his party’s Lok Sabha candidate. With Pramila remaining largely an unknown figure in the constituency despite the hype surrounding her candidature, the contest has become a prestige battle for the chief minister.

The issue in Aska is, thus, the prestige of the chief minister and not the lack of major irrigation projects and near complete absence of industries in the constituency from where people migrate in bulk to Surat where they work in factories under sweatshop conditions. The crying need to modernise the Aska cooperative sugar factory at Nuagaon and the government’s failure to credit even the first instalment of KALIA scheme money into the bank accounts of a large number of farmers is not being discussed as much as the fact that the constituency has elected Naveen Patnaik thrice in the past and happens to be part of Ganjam which is the chief minister’s home district. The common refrain is that Patnaik will lose face if Pramila loses from here.

The BJP has been similarly trying to focus on the public persona of the Prime Minister and his supposedly enhanced stature in the wake of Balakot air strike. The two major parties in contest, thus, themselves appear to have turned it into Modi versus Naveen.

The scene is not much different in Bolangir where a battle royal seems to be on the cards with the scion of Patnagarh estate and BJD candidate Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo locking horns with his sister-in-law and BJP veteran, Sangeeta Singh Deo. Issues like absence of major irrigation projects, resistance to the Lower Suktel project and large-scale migration of labour from the drought-prone blocks of the district are discussed but only in passing. They certainly don’t appear to be on the top of the agenda of the major parties in the contest including the Congress. The fight here once again seems to have boiled down to a clash between the public personas of Naveen and Modi.

(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)