Op-Ed: Political Considerations Come In The Way of Odisha Adopting Ayushman Bharat

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Bhartiya Janata Party MPs from the state have made a fervent plea for state government adopting and implementing the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme.

There is no denying the importance of the scheme for the people but residents of the state are being deprived of its benefits because Odisha government has pitted its own Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) against the central project.

The issue has clearly acquired political dimensions with Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) insisting that BSKY is better than Modicare. BJP and BJD had engaged in a verbal duel over the issue even at the time of elections. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in the course of his campaign in the state had made several appeals to chief minister, Naveen Patnaik to adopt Ayushman Bharat but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

This despite the fact that there are several implementation-related complaints against BSKY. Even though steps are being taken to address these issues the scheme is likely to encounter more teething troubles. Hence Odisha should have no hesitation adopting Ayushman Bharat in the larger interest of the people.

The problem is BJD has its own political compulsions in trying to prove that its health scheme is better than Modicare. It is a regional party that claims to follow a policy of equidistance from BJP and Congress. Even though the party in the last few weeks has supported the BJP-led NDA on some crucial issues and voted alongside it in the parliament it cannot ignore the fact that the saffron party happens to be its main political rival in the state.

The sharp decline of the Congress has boosted BJP’s fortunes in the state where it has emerged as the main opposition party. The saffron party also won eight Lok Sabha seats in the recently held elections. Hence BJD has reasons to treat BJP with caution notwithstanding the current bonhomie between chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Significantly some of the recent decisions of the Centre have caused acute embarrassment to the state’s BJD government. For example the state government was rattled when the union environment ministry granted a two-year extension for work on the controversial Polavaram project coming up in Andhra Pradesh.

Extension was granted despite Centre being fully aware of Odisha’s objections to the project that threatens to submerge several tribal villages in the state’s Malkangiri district. Even mandatory public hearing for such projects has not been held in Odisha areas likely to be affected by the project.

Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention in the matter and urging him to halt the project till Odisha ‘s concerns are addressed but nothing has happened so far. Considering that Polavaram was also a campaign issue for the BJD in the recent elections Patnaik would want the Centre to take his government’s point of view into consideration and call a halt to the project work.

As far as Polavaram is concerned the Modi government, which lacks a majority in the Rajya Sabha, seems to be under pressure from Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Jagan Mohan Reddy who is pushing the project aggressively. The Prime Minister obviously is not in a mood to annoy Reddy who can be a useful ally despite being non-aligned at the moment like BJD and the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS). All these three parties appear ready to cooperate with the Centre if the latter grants them their wishes.

On the Polavaram front Jagan seems to have outsmarted Naveen who now will have to think of other ways to protect the interests of the state. This is important because the issue has turned emotive and any failure on the part of Odisha chief minister is likely to be exploited by his opponents.

Yet another setback for Naveen Patnaik government has been the Centre ‘s reluctance to grant Odisha special category state status. Union minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur recently told the Lok Sabha that the government had no such proposal under its consideration. This issue, too, is politically significant as Patnaik has been raising the demand consistently since coming to power in 2000.

Odisha government ‘s tug of war with the Centre over the Ayushman Bharat Yojana has to be seen in this wider perspective of BJP and BJD’s political rivalry and the mounting pressure on Patnaik to be seen as being successful in safeguarding state’s interests.

(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.)