Modi Visit: Will The Khurda Narrative Change At Baripada?

By : Soumyajit Pattnaik

Will the Khurda narrative change at Baripada? In his Xmas-eve address at the Khurda rally, PM Narendra Modi unveiled new rules of competition and political rivalry with BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik. The PM will not hesitate firing salvoes where the state government was found wanting in providing basic services to the people. But the rules of engagement also entail that he will not train guns personally on CM Naveen Patnaik or the BJD.

Will PM Narendra Modi adopt a more belligerent posture towards BJD Government and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in particular at Baripada on January 5? Or will he again attempt a fine balancing act keeping in view the dire political compulsions after the BJP lost 3 Hindi heartland states?

For PM Modi, Baripada meeting is important as local MP Ram Chandra Hansdah symbolises the murky nexus between chit fund scamsters and powerful politicians. Baripada will offer PM Modi the most ideal platform to highlight this unholy nexus between politicians and chit fund devils who looted people’s savings with impunity before the Crime Branch and CBI could curb the menace.

Hansdah, a founder-director of Nava Diganta Capital Services Ltd, was arrested by the CBI in November 2014 and he was granted bail by the Supreme Court in July 2018. Hansdah has been suspended from the BJD, but he’s the only sitting MP in Odisha who was arrested by the CBI in the chit fund scam.

From Baripada, PM Modi is expected to fire few missiles at some of the ruling party politicians too who have been quizzed by the CBI. At Ram Chandra Hansdah’s own home turf, it’s a foregone conclusion that chit fund issue is likely to get a new lease of life as a potent weapon as the political warfare flares up in the coming days.

The Baripada meeting is also important as the Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat was a traditional stronghold of the BJP. In 1998 and 1999, BJP’s Salkan Murmu had won from this seat, but JMM’s Sudam Marandi wrested this seat from the BJP in 2004. BJD’s Laxman Tudu and Ramchandra Hansdah won Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat in 2009 and 2014 respectively. It’s thus evident that the BJP won the Mayurbhanj seat for the last time in 1999 and after a gap of 20 years, it will try to win it again.

At present Mayurbhanj district has nine Assembly constituencies and BJD won all nine seats in 2014. However, there is much optimism in the BJP as the party did exceedingly well in the 2017 Zilla Parishad elections. Out of the 56 Zilla Parishad seats, the BJP won 48 and the BJD 6 ZP seats in 2017. But in the Bijatala ZP by-election held last month, the BJD could turn the tables by wresting the seat from the BJP. While in 2017 ZP election, the BJD candidate lost by nearly 4000 votes, the party won the seat by a margin of 4212 votes last month.

As the BJP swept the Zilla Parishad elections in 2017, the party hopes to make serious inroads here in the 2019 Assembly polls. At present, BJP representation in Assembly is nil from Mayurbhanj district, but the party had won 6 seats in 2000 and 5 seats in 2004 Assembly elections. But it drew a blank in both 2009 and 2014 polls. It remains to be seen whether PM Modi can bring a turnaround for the BJP fortunes in Mayurbhanj district or not.

As PM Modi is stepping into Odisha for the first time in 2019, he may not be oblivious of the BJD’s position in Lok Sabha on the Rafale deal and in Rajya Sabha over the Triple Talaq legislation. Speaking in Lok Sabha, BJD MP Kalikesh Singhdeo raised many pertinent issues on price, lack of technology transfer, deplorable state of IAF, exclusion of HAL despite its proven expertise etc. But the Balangir MP neither specifically demanded JPC probe nor did he target the PM like Congress and other Opposition parties. Thus, the BJD is also observing the same rules of engagement where they will pose uncomfortable questions, but will not personally hit out at the PM.

On the Triple Talaq Bill, the BJD MPs staged a walkout in Lok Sabha but its Rajya Sabha leader Prasanna Acharya later clarified that the party is not opposed to the legislation. It will seek some changes in the bill, but the party is not opposed to the Bill per se. Thus the window of cooperation is all along operating on crucial legislations even as both parties are sniping at each other.

There are 34 Assembly seats reserved for the STs in Odisha and Modi has perhaps chosen the Mayurbhanj ST seat to communicate his message to the entire tribal community in Odisha. In the tribal areas of Chhhattisgarh, BJP support base is eroding fast. This was quite evident from the poll reverses the party suffered especially in the Bastar region. In neighbouring Jharkhand too, BJP lost a by-election last month to Congress. Unless the BJP can regain its support base among the tribal communities, it can only make futile attempts to stop the BJD juggernaut in Odisha. Can PM Modi make the difference?

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