Op-Ed: Time For Odisha To Stand Up For Its Rights

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: As expected chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has written a letter to union tourism minister expressing his disappointment over the omission of Odisha from the list of 17 iconic tourism sites to be developed by the Centre with provision made for the same in the budget for 2019-20.

In his missive to Prahlad Singh Patel the chief minister has urged him to consider the inclusion of at least two sites from the state in the Centre’s list. Patnaik made a strong pitch for the promotion of Odisha’s tourist destinations by the Centre mentioning in the letter some of the most fascinating sites that would qualify for inclusion in any exclusive list.

The big question, however, is will Patnaik’s plea make the Centre reconsider its decision. From the available indications that seems highly unlikely. The die has already been cast. Odisha will have to wait for another opportunity.

Significantly, Odisha has been a victim of adverse decisions by the Centre on other fronts, too. For example union environment ministry’s decision to grant a two-year work extension to the controversial Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh is bound to hit Odisha’s interest. Patnaik has also written to the Centre on this issue demanding immediate stoppage of work on the project which threatens to submerge several villages in the tribal dominated Malkangiri district.

But merely writing letters is not going to change things. Past experience shows that the state needs to bare its fangs in order to protect its interests. Nobody cares for a weak state government.

What is significant is that both the developments—omission of Odisha from the list of iconic tourism sites and work extension for Polavaram—have come in the wake of chief minister’s much talked about meeting with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in New Delhi following which the Biju Janata Dal extended support BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate, Ashwini Vaishnav.

The support for Vaishnav, a former Odisha cadre IAS officer, was supposed to be a quid pro quo arrangement. The Prime Minister in return was supposed to ensure that Odisha received favourable treatment from the Centre and some of its outstanding demands like the grant of special category state status were conceded.

But the developments taking place in the wake of that meeting create the impression that Odisha has been back-stabbed by the Modi regime which at one stage had appeared to be assiduously wooing chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. However, decisions like Polavaram show that the Prime Minister is now inclined to give regional satraps like Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Jaganmohan Reddy preference over Patnaik.

And if that is the case then Odisha needs to stand up for its rights. The state must assert itself, indeed resort to some amount of sabre rattling to make Centre take notice of its just demands. As it is the Biju Janata Dal still has sufficient number of MPs in parliament to put pressure on the NDA regime which lacks a majority in the Rajya Sabha. It must put a premium on its support for Modi government in the Upper House to extract the maximum out of it. That is the only way Odisha’s interests can be safeguarded.

(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.)