Political feud flares up in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: The simmering feud between the BJD and the Congress over the ensuing presidential elections has flared up. The BJD fired the first salvo by igniting the office-of-profit row involving UPA presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee. The shrill BJD campaign got a shot in the arm when party leaders suspected union minister Srikant Jena’s alleged role in bailing out Pranab from certain disqualification. Pranab and other Congress leaders have pooh-poohed the allegations, but the BJD did not want to let go the opportunity to nail both Pranab and Srikant.

The BJD seems to have adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, the party wants to woo the tribal electorate in the state, who constitute nearly 23% of the state’s population. Naveen Patnaik was first to propose PA Sangma’s name as the party’s presidential nominee on May 17 and it was initially speculated that Naveen’s premature announcement could boomerang as other non-UPA parties save AIADMK prevaricated on their choice. But Naveen was vindicated after the BJP and SAD decided to back Sangma’s candidature. The BJD may reap political dividends by projecting Sangma as its presidential nominee as the party is certain to showcase this to bolster its support base among the state’s tribals.

While the tribal card was played with precision, Naveen used the unfolding events to nail union minister Srikant Jena who has been championing the cause of the OBCs, SCs and STs for many years. By dragging Jena’s name to the alleged office-of-profit controversy, the BJD wanted to kill two birds with one stone. The controversy has the potential to enhance Sangma’s stature vis-à-vis Pranab and at the same time, it is likely to create confusion in the minds of the electorate whether union minister Jena indeed played a dubious role in the alleged row. Congress leaders have steadfastly dismissed all allegations as baseless.

The indomitable Jena in his riposte has shot off a letter to Naveen in which he has raised many pertinent questions about the government’s commitment to tribal issues in past 12 years. Jena in his letter has mentioned about the Kalinga Nagar police firing in which 12 tribals were killed and their palms chopped off. Jena has raised the Maikanch firing in which 3 tribals were killed. Jena also urged Naveen for an open debate whether Odisha has got more money from the Centre under NDA or UPA Government.

The knives are clearly out as both the Congress and BJD have pulled out all stops to score political brownie points vis-à-vis each other.