In the run up to General Election 2009, on March 7, when BJD severed an 11-year-old alliance with BJP there were many raised eyebrows, not only in Bhubaneswar, but also in Delhi. Two months later the election results on May 16 proved the apprehensions of many political pundits wrong. BJD made a clean sweep in Orissa with 103 seats and Naveen Patnaik was ready for a third successive term as Chief Minister - a feat not achieved by even his father Biju Patnaik, the most popular chief minister of Orissa.
Biju Patnaik came to power in 1990 winning 123 of 147 seats under the Janata Dal banner and the result in 2009 can perhaps said to be a repeat of that success of a non-Congress party in Orissa politics. The BJD's astounding performance can mainly be attributed to the towering personality of Naveen Patnaik. The Congress seems like a pack of fallen cards in a state heavily rooted with infighting and factionalism. BJP does not have a mass appeal across the state except the scattered concentration and may take many years to make a comeback. Both the major opposition parties in the state had failed to provide an alternative leader to counter the 'clean' and 'honest' image of Naveen Patnaik. People of Orissa have not yet forgotten the years of Congress rule under JB-BaBi-HeBi (Janaki Ballabh-Hemananda Biswal-Basanta Biswal). Compared to this Naveen seems to be a better alternative. Since Naveen took charge as the Chief Minister, he has emerged as a best alternative who has brought a lot of hope and aspiration for change in one of the poor states of India. The change has come in these nine years of Naveen rule but the development agenda is yet contentious.
As Naveen assumes office for record third time as the Chief Minister a daunting task is waiting for his newly inducted Council of Ministers to meet the aspirations and hopes of the people of Orissa. At a point in time when a Super CM is dictating the terms to everybody, Opposition has lost a say in the Assembly and a coterie around Naveen is deciding the agenda of governance in the state, shadow of corruption overpowering Chief Minister's clean image can't be ruled out.
In his nine years of rule in last two terms Naveen has sacked about 11 ministers on charges of corruption. But a close look into each individual case gives an idea that the action was more motivated to settle the political scores than checking the corruption.
Orissa is a backward state and Naveen has played his cards well making 'development agenda' a very good tool to grab votes. Though the BJD rule has changed the perception of the people and state has witnessed some development 39.90 per cent of the population still lives below the poverty line, around 8 per cent more than the neighbouring Bihar. The number of unemployed youth in the state has swelled all these years and as many as 5 million people have suffered here from malnourishment. It is also a fact that though the state is complaining about the Center's step motherly attitude, the state has many irregularities in producing the utilization certificates for allocated funds.
In his previous terms Naveen kept his track with industrialization by bringing single largest FDI to the country. The series of MoUs with many industrial houses including the bigwigs like Posco, Arcelor-Mittal and Vedant has brought a lot of hope also. But the work at ground level has not yet taken off. Naveen also in his third term can't afford another Kalinganagar episode or carry out industrialization at the cost of the tribals of the Niyamgiri hills. The stories of huge kickbacks in mining projects are also making rounds in the media circles at Bhubaneswar and even in Delhi, though nobody is courageous enough to talk about it openly.
With a slothful bureaucracy and corrupt policing system good governance is a mere illusion in the state now. It shows all the state of the affairs that even a residence certificate can't be received without greasing the palm of the clerk in the Tehsil office. Again with 15 of the 30 districts in the state marred with the Maoist violence policing remains a great challenge in the state. A repeat of Nayagarh or Chitrakonda incident would rift apart the myth of good governance and Naveen would never be able to control the damage.
All the major political decisions are being taken from 111- Saheed Nagar, the residence of the Super CM not from Naveen Nivas, the official residence of the Chief Minister. The Opposition has lost its voice. The media have made Naveen its darling. The issues like development, good governance, inclusive growth have remained mere myth. In this scenario one concern Oriya can only hope that Naveen, in his hat-trick term, proves that absolute power doesn't corrupt absolutely.
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Associate Editor, Print Research