Op-Ed: Patnaik’s Bijepur Package, A Political Move

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has announced a slew of sops for Bijepur sparking off speculation that he may give up the seat in favour of Hinjili, his pocket-borough that he won alongwith this western Odisha constituency.

Irrespective of whether he keeps or gives up the seat he wants to send out a strong message that he cares for the people of the constituency which his party had snatched from the Congress in a bye-election last year after a gap of 14 years. The BJD had registered its first victory in Bijepur in 2000 but after that Congress’s Subal Sahu won it for his party thrice in succession.

The bye-election held in 2018 was significant in the sense that BJD’s victorious candidate was none other than Sahu’s wife, Rita who decided to join the ruling party as she though she could serve the area best as the representative of BJD. After registering a thumping victory she was widely expected to be re-nominated from the constituency but then BJD decided to field Patnaik from the seat. Rita was part of the delegation of BJD leaders who urged the chief minister to contest from Bijepur.

For the BJD it was a strategic move as the party was keen to checkmate the growth of BJP in western Odisha which has been a fertile ground for the growth of lotus compared to the coastal belt which has long been a stronghold of Naveen Patnaik-led regional party. So Patnaik contested both from Bijepur and Hinjili and expectedly triumphed on both the seats but the margin of victory in his traditional seat falling in his native district of Ganjam was much bigger.

With pressure mounting on Naveen to retain the Hinjili seat it is quite likely that he keeps it and gives up Bijepur but he would not like to offend the people of the western Odisha constituency basking in the glory of having elected the chief minister. Even if he quits Bijepur he would ensure that the people of the area enjoy his patronage as much as Hinjili and remain beholden to his government and his party.

It is this perspective that makes his latest package for Bijepur, a constituency falling under the drought-prone Bargarh district, significant. But more than announcement it is implementation that is important. In the past it has been seen that the bureaucracy has been sluggish in implementing government schemes in the area. Even the much touted Gangadhar Meher irrigation project launched by chief minister for the farmers of the region has been making indifferent progress.

This is dangerous as non-implementation or slow execution of promised schemes can disillusion the people and turn them against the government and the ruling party. Besides, the government must remember that Bargarh is a district that had reported maximum cases of farmer suicides in the state in recent years. So by delaying the execution of schemes it runs the risk of alienating the farmers of the region who constitute a sizeable vote bank. This will also send a wrong message to the people of western Odisha in general. The government and the ruling party cannot afford such a risk.

(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.)