Op-Ed: Was BJD’s Support For Vaishnav A Mistake?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Newspapers have quoted union minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur as telling the Lok Sabha that Centre is not considering any proposal to grant special category state status to Odisha. There is also no move to increase Centre’s share of funds for centrally sponsored schemes in the state.

Thakur’s statement must have disappointed Odisha government and the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders as chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has been consistent in demanding special status for the state. He is believed to have taken up the issue with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi when the two leaders met in New Delhi recently. Patnaik had also asked Modi to declare cyclone-hit Odisha as a ‘ special focus’ state and grant it the same benefits as a special category state for a period of time.

Interestingly, Centre’s denial follows Patnaik’s friendly overtures towards the BJP whose candidate, former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Odisha recently with BJD’s support. Given the brute majority Odisha’s ruling party enjoys in the state assembly it could easily have won all the three Rajya Sabha seats for which by-poll was held recently.

But Patnaik decided to gift one seat to the BJP apparently following a request from Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and union home minister, Amit Shah. Normally such moves are seen as quid pro quo arrangements. Hence it is reasonable to assume that BJD government would expect some special concessions from the Centre.

But nothing of the kind seems to have happened so far. Instead Odisha has faced embarrassment because of certain decisions taken by the Centre, a glaring example being its decision to grant a two-year work extension for the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh which the Naveen Patnaik regime has been opposing consistently. The project, for which a public hearing is yet to be held in the affected areas of Odisha, threatens to submerge a cluster of villages in the tribal-dominated Malkangiri district of the state.

That raises a very pertinent question—what has BJD gained by extending support to Vaishanav and helping increase BJP’s numbers in the Rajya Sabha. In the backdrop of developments taking place in the wake of Vaishnav’s election this query assumes an intriguing dimension. While ruling BJD leaders have no explanation for this except saying that the decision must have been taken in the larger interest of the state the BJP leaders of Odisha couldn’t care less. They are just happy that one of their leaders has gone to the Upper House of the parliament where the party still lacks a majority.

The situation has spawned many other theories to explain Patnaik’s move, one of these being the fear of CBI which is probing the chit fund scam. The central investigating agency had arrested some BJD leaders in connection with the scam and they are still under its scanner. The Centre, hence, is in a position to use the CBI to bring the Patnaik government under pressure. One wonders if this could be the reason for BJD’s support for Vaishnav. But whatever be the reason Odisha does not appear to have gained anything out of it so far.

(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.)