Op-Ed: Politics Apart Odisha Needs Special Category Status

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s request to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi at their recent meeting in New Delhi that states hit by major calamities be declared special focus states and granted benefits of special category status for a specific period has evoked varied reactions.

While state BJP has described it as a political stunt the Congress, too, has questioned the chief minister’s sincerity in the matter. The BJP’s argument is that Patnaik should not be making such a demand when he has failed to make full use of the funds that the Centre has been providing to the state.

On the other hand a Congress leader sought to question Patnaik’s commitment on the issue as he had failed to do anything to realise the demand when he was himself a minister at the Centre.

But irrespective of the criticism being levelled against Patnaik by BJP and Congress his demand seems justified as Odisha, which has been at the receiving end of Nature’s fury for a long time, needs special attention of the Centre. It needs sustained flow of adequate central funds.

Patnaik’s special focus request is only a logical progression towards making Centre accept its long standing demand for special category state status to Odisha. The chief minister now wants that natural calamity be included as an indicator for the grant of special category tag to states.

One would recall that the demand for state being accorded special category status was first raised when Biju Janata Dal ran a coalition government in the state with BJP. But the two parties then did not see eye to eye on the issue and with the central BJP leadership not positively inclined the demand was never conceded.

But the BJD has stuck to the demand which seems justified considering the circumstances of the state which has faced one natural calamity after another since 2000 when Naveen Patnaik took over as the chief minister. Besides the demand suits BJD’s politics helping it whip up passions against the Centre as and when required.

All regional parties need issues on which they can build up state specific campaigns projecting themselves as victims of injustice. Thus BJD has successfully turned the special category status demand into a political weapon. It was a major plank of the party in the recently concluded elections which also saw it whipping up regional passions on issues like Mahanadi and Polavaram disputes.

On both Mahanadi and Polavaram BJD leaders have been faulting the Centre more than Chhatisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, the states with which Odisha is engaged in a dispute over these issues. The Centre is seen and shown as acting in a partisan manner favouring Chhatisgarh and Andhra Pradesh instead of Odisha.

The situation in Chhatisgarh, of course, has changed with a Congress government taking charge of the state and the Mahanadi dispute landing before a tribunal which has asked the two states to try and come up with an amicable and mutually acceptable solution.

But BJD leaders still do not appear to be in a mood to forgive the Modi government for having allegedly sided with Chhatisgarh over the Mahanadi dispute when a BJP government was in power in the state. They are similarly aggrieved with the Centre on the Polavaram issue.

The BJD government’s latest push for special category status should be seen in this light. But irrespective of the politics surrounding the demand there is no denying that it is completely justified.

(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.)