Odisha’s Chief Minister for 19 years is fighting some strange battles

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik
  • In the phase 3 of polling, Odisha will be voting not just for Lok Sabha but also Assembly elections.
  • Naveen Patnaik, who has been in power for four consecutive terms, faces anti-incumbency for the first time.
  • Patnaik has filed nominations from two constituencies.
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has twice as much at stake over many other regional leaders in India. The people in the state are voting not just for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, but also for the state assembly and Patnaik is fighting the kind of anti-incumbency that is inevitable after holding power for 19 years.

Rumours of his ill health have also been doing the rounds. To dissipate those rumours, Patnaik even released a video of him working out and also gave out interviews while in the gym.

Populism and anti-incumbency

For the people of Odisha, there’s a lot riding on this election. According to a survey report done by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), drinking water, better employment opportunities, and better roads are the top priorities of voters in Odisha. The same survey also reflected that according to the voters, the performance of the current government in these three areas has been below average.

His populist policies, like the recent Kalia scheme which promises financial, livelihood, cultivation and insurance support to farmers, have helped his image to some extent. The Kalia programme was one of the cash transfer schemes to be announced in the run up to the general elections, even before the one announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the interim budget on February 1.

Under the scheme, the BJD government has set aside ₹10,180 crores for the first three years of its implementation. While launching the scheme Patnaik had said that the scheme will help 92% of the state's farmers.

Insiders and outsiders

However, in the last year, several top leaders have left the BJD in the last year. The most controversial exit of them all has been that Baijayant Panda, who was counted as one of the closest associates of Patnaik. Panda was suspended from the party for alleged anti-party activities and after his subsequent resignation and a hiatus of six months, Panda joined the BJP.

Panda, who went on to become the National Vice President of the BJP, is fighting from the Kendrapara constituency of Odisha. He has been a former MP for the same constituency on a ticket from the BJD. To counter his popularity, Patnaik gave the Kendrapara seat from BJD to sitting MP and famous Odiya actor Anubhav Mohanty.

Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, is another BJP leader from the state, representing the Deogarh constituency, posing a risk to BJD’s chances.

Hinjli and Bijepur

Patnaik, on the other hand, has filed nominations from two constituencies – Hinjli and Bijepur – for the first time. From the Hinjli constituency, Patnaik has managed to win four times and his popularity remains unmatched. The Hinjili assembly constituency comes under the Lok Sabha constituency of Aska.

Meanwhile, the Assembly constituency of Bijepur, falls under the Lok Sabha constituency of Bargarh. Prabhas Kumar Singh from the BJD is the current MP from Bargarh, while the assembly constituency of Bijepur also is with BJD.

Development and mining

Of the state's population, Odisha is also home to 22% tribals, who are rooting for infrastructural development.

Mining is one of the significant contributors to the state’s economy. Over the past few years, the sector has contributed on an average 9.5 percent to Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). However, now it has become a subject of political debate – as Patnaik had come under fire for the same, having also been subject to CBI interrogation in a coal block allocation case.

But the push for mining as a development tool has been a double-edged sword. Odisha has also been subject to multiple protests from tribals against the land taken over by mining companies. Niyamgiri in the Rayagada constituency of Odisha has been one of the biggest land conflicts in the state where tribals had been protesting against the bauxite mining by Vedanta.

In February this year, there were massive protests in the state after the Supreme Court rejected where 1.3 million land claims of forest dwellers across the country were rejected. According to the reports, in Odisha nearly 150,000 were going to be evicted after the order.

See Also:
Over 185 million people are expected to vote in the largest phase of India's 2019 election
Here’s what Modi government can learn from Odisha’s direct cash transfer scheme
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