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Op-Ed: The Future Of Odisha Politics

Dwelling in the past cocoons every generation in a comfort zone. Perennially under the spell of self-praise and in the illusion of own generation’s self-adulation, every age group of politicians assumes that their successors would be less worthy. They rue “things have changed”. Of course, they are supposed to change and ought to change. Whether they accept or not, by 2025 Odisha politics would be a lot different from what it is now, even only four years away.

I foresee an emergence of community issues in some areas. Till now, barring health and agriculture, Odisha has seldom faced real community issues. Industrial and mining hubs in Jajpur, Paradip, Angul, Jharsuguda, Rayagada would enhance the income of the marginalised communities, and an unskilled labour will be getting 12,000 or more per month. The assumption here is that local people get a chance to work in the industries in their own geography. Politics of these areas and the neighbouring constituencies will revolve around agendas like a) employment b) community-industry negotiations c) the collectorate-industry-MLA/MP understanding of government schemes and making them appropriately targeted d) sustenance of basic rural economy and e) control of crimes.

With the rapidly growing industrialisation, land would be freed from historical agriculture and would be offered by even small and marginal farmers for real estate development. Purchasing power would surge like never before. The politics would be focused on ‘business facilitation’. The state would do its best to help business prosper. Amidst this, only a leader who can bring in the balance between business and socialism would emerge popular or “statesman/woman like”.

The CV of a politician would look very different. S/he need not be a trade union leader, a student leader, a mass leader but if he has the support of business, the youth (majority of voters) will accept him or her. Distinct activism would be in the last leg and would gradually metamorphose into accommodative discordance. The process has already started since sometime now. Bhubaneswar is teeming with people more professional in getting projects cleared than asking questions about the impact of the projects. That is because the civil society is enjoying a slumber and they would continue with deeper sleep because, in the end, everyone including the communities want the jobs to be done. The leader would be able to pick ‘doers’ from the communities who would escort business to successful completion.

The survival of politics or politicians in Odisha would majorly depend on the survival of business, mostly extraction. Bhubaneswar would turn more into a guest house for the mineral-rich from Jajpur, Paradip, Angul, Jharsuguda, Rayagada. One-third of the state would be (more than 80 out of 147 constituencies) hungry for savvy, pro-business, rich representatives to be elected. The youth cadres or their handlers would toe their line and hence money would play the central role in the polity. Odisha could be the classic example of woke capitalism driving policies and culture and enjoying ‘ruling’ prominence than mere financial power. How mineral-based rental economy changed everything, from the culture to the politics of a state which not long ago was a ‘poor state’ for aid agencies and henceforth would be an ‘emerging state’ for trade agencies? Déjà vu. Business has always prevailed, even before the extraction spurt. By 2025, business will be an institutionalised and formalised stakeholder in governance. When business would dabble in governance, politics would naturally do business. By 2024, about 40% more businessmen would be in active politics and seek elections in Odisha. The term career politician would gradually lose relevance.

By 2025, there would hardly be any regional leaders (different regions of Odisha) worth the pull or influence. There were a few leaders who after their stints at Bhubaneswar, the centre, made their region or constituencies their mainstay. But now and in the coming years, the “constituency touch” of the leaders would no more be required. They are living off the party, its symbol and its chief leader. The MLAs would more and more get into a system where they are not expected to think or lead. They would be asked to do as directed by the chief or the party. The odd ones who would dissent would be shown the way or made backbenchers. Politics would be less issue-based. It would be party or central decision driven. In a way politics would be like the civil administration –a person or a caucus decides, and all the rest are to implement. It is a welcome change because in all these decades the MLAs failed to emerge as leaders and played ball happily to central whips. Communities feel much safer with the Chief than with the lackeys. At least there is a centrality in planning and development drives. People get benefits from welfare measures. They would continue to get doles because in the next half a decade, the largesse of public schemes would subsidise the CSR of the private sector. This will be due to the impact of “woke capitalism”. The social development work in villages would be controlled by CSR but funded by public schemes. Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as a concept will turn on its head.

The manifestos would no longer speak of social development. They would shout about business development. Social development will phase out when the HDIs would be reasonably stabilised. Like Maslow’s pyramid, after the basics, the communities would look for self-actualisation. This would manifest in increased income, easy income, more material comforts, flatter social hierarchies, more condominiums in tier 2 and 3 towns, lifestyle changes, reduced farming and above all emergence of leadership from least expected quarters. Everyone would get a chance to negotiate. Politics in a business-centric environment would encourage this trait which was earlier under the grip of a few dynasts or chieftains. By 2025, I foresee a lot of new faces to take charge.

In this scheme of things, the Generation Z— born between 1995 and 2012—would have to find a space for themselves. Everywhere they are redefining political movements, religion, popular culture, social distancing and more. But if they leave Odisha for studies or jobs, they leave behind two generations (one younger and one older) who would not have the capacity to respond to the changes around them or react and suggest. The millennials are Odisha’s first generation of digital natives and the oldest of its members would be about 30 then. They will be more engaged in opinionizing through social media which would be much more expansive in the next five years or so. The Odia collectives, groups in different cities of India would also become active but mostly as voices and not much of action. Because Odia diaspora would require to be strongly cohesive and action oriented then.

There will be less dwelling in the past and more blinking in the present, then. The political narrative would be designed more on business and less on culture and heritage. This shift would take about 4-5 years to sink into the Odia psyche. Once complete, the government would be the only source to keep the culture alive. I don’t foresee much PPP in the culture arena. With the change in narratives, the style of campaigning and the messages would be different. More than half of the population would be reached through social media, which might spawn fake and deep fake social media misinformation campaigns. This will be a new war fought on new grounds which is far away from the real ground. Politics in Odisha would drift away from ground issues. This is a trend and would have its own pros and cons. Values of the middle class will turn to unbridled aspirations. The per capita income of Odisha has grown by about 115 per cent in the last 8 years. It has added more than 15% to the middle-class band.

Like someone said quite easily that “I don’t set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them.” This will be the mood of Odisha politics.

To be continued….

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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.)

(Charudutta Panigrahi is a polymath. Author, community worker, TED speaker, public intellectual & policy influencer. He can be reached at charu.panigrahi@gmail.com)

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