Odisha panchayat polls: By inviting Raman Singh to campaign, BJP has scored an own-goal
What made the state's BJP unit invite Raman Singh is still unclear, for it has certainly caused more damage than good to the party's prospects in the polls.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh's recent visit to Odisha reflects his apathy towards the local people, making him come off as a piercingly cold individual. Or perhaps, he is simply insouciant, a trademark of the party he belongs to and a result of the unflinching support he receives from the Centre.
For he had the impudence to visit a state nursing the wounds inflicted by his government, over the Mahanadi river dispute, to campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the Panchayat polls beginning on Monday. What made the state's BJP unit invite Singh is still unclear, for it has certainly caused more damage than good to the party's prospects in the polls.
Most of Singh’s brief meetings – in Balangir, Sundargarh and Jharsuguda – witnessed little attendance, besides seeing many organised protests by the masses.
The Mahanadi river dispute, which has been a serious bone of contention between Chhattisgarh and Odisha since last year, has not been solved despite numerous marathon meetings between the states, its heads and an intervention by Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti.
Odisha had been alarmed by Chhattisgarh's plans to build 13 barrages across the Mahanadi, aimed to extract more water for alleged industrial use. Chhattisgarh was also constructing seven pick-up weirs (small dams) across the river, a move that saw vehement opposition from Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
After a tripartite meeting in New Delhi late last year, Bharti had asked the Chhattisgarh government to restrain from further construction and to suspend all ongoing projects. But the effort was in vain, as no concrete solution emerged.
The upstream construction in Mahanadi river, Odisha government states, potentially threatens the life and livelihood of people staying in over 16 villages of Odisha, who depend on the river for sustenance.
Singh and his government, however, have maintained that his state uses only four percent of the Mahanadi water, while Odisha uses 13 percent, with almost 80 percent flowing into the Bay of Bengal. A statement, which has not been supported by any document.
Whether Singh is right or not remains to be seen, but that the issue has snowballed into a political controversy spanning two states is undeniable. Odisha has witnessed several protests – some orchestrated by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Congress party – where people have taken up cudgels.
The send-off Patnaik received for the tripartite meeting in New Delhi was indicative of the sentiments people of Odisha have attached to the river. Even now, as Singh tours Odisha, the BJD has been organising jal satyagrahas at Cuttack, Sambalpur and Sundargarh; while the Congress has been crying foul on the issue, disapproving Singh’s visit.
But Odisha's BJP unit, expected to stand for the state – irrespective of its allegations over BJD’s negligence of the issue – has certainly rubbed salt on people's wounds.
Moreover, during all his public meetings in Odisha, Singh has been raking up the river issue by faulting Patnaik of politicising the matter. In fact, he has been talking about the one-rupee rice distributed in Odisha, calling it a product of substandard quality in comparison to that of his government.
As if the Mahanadi issue was not enough, he has also been touching upon sensitive issues of poverty and migration in Odisha, while taking credit for providing jobs to migrants in Chhattisgarh.
But, Singh's attempts at instigating Patnaik have fallen on deaf ears as, being an astute statesman, Patnaik has ignored his visit in toto. He has instead been concentrating on seeking votes for BJD candidates, displaying nonchalance about the whole issue.
Despite the presence of party 'bigwigs' like Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan – who the BJP has been nurturing as the chief ministerial candidate for the 2019 Assembly election – and former Union ministers Jual Oram and Dilip Ray, the fact that the national party chose to bring in Singh and Union Minister Ram Kripal Yadav to campaign makes it clear that it doesn’t believe in its own strength to fight the polls in the state.
Though the people of Odisha are peace loving and tolerant, they can be loyal to a damaging extent; a fact that has clearly not been fathomed by the BJP leaders.
Instead of standing by their own state and people, the BJP leaders in Odisha have proved yet again that party affiliations are more important to them than the interests and concerns of their own state.
Otherwise, no matter how much they wanted to dislodge the Patnaik government, they would not have sought Singh's help – someone, who spits ill about the issues in Odisha and tries to rein in the flow of a river considered to be the lifeline of the people. This move can catch the BJP on the wrong foot.
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