Still Going Strong

Still Going Strong

Several pluses and a few minutes. That perhaps is a fair assessment of the first six months of the Naveen Patnaik(Still Going Strong) government in its fifth term. As in the previous four terms, Naveen Patnaik(Still Going Strong) has been extremely proactive, never once allowing the Opposition to mount a challenge.

There is little doubt that his job has been made considerably easier by the steamrolling majority his party – the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) – enjoys in the Assembly.

But as we have seen in the past, even a numerically small Opposition can make life extremely difficult for the ruling party even if it has a brute majority – most notably during the late 1980s when Naveen’s father Biju Patnaik was the leader of the 17-member Janata Dal (JD) legislature party while the Congress government led by JB Patnaik had a thumping majority in the House.

Naveen(Still Going Strong), therefore, deserves some credit for the adroit floor management that has steered his party out of choppy waters on several occasions. The welfare measures launched by the government have ensured victory for BJD candidates in both the by-elections held do far – first in Patkura and then Bijepur.

When it assumed office in May, the Naveen Patnaik government had a huge challenge on its hands: rebuilding the areas devastated by Cyclone Fani just days before. But it has passed the test with flying colors.

While the full restoration of lost livelihoods is still a work in progress, damaged infrastructure has been largely restored and life for the cyclone-affected has returned to near normal in a remarkably short time.   

The biggest positive of the government in the first six months of its current term, however, is 5T, the innovative, one of its kind program aimed at ensuring speed and transparency in the delivery of public services.

Launched on a limited scale covering police and hospitals on October 2, 2019, the initiative is proposed to be extended to all departments and schemes of the state government in phases by March 2020.

Helmed by V Karthikeyan Pandian, the Chief Minister’s(Still Going Strong) most trusted, loyal and efficient officer, 5T holds out the promise of ushering in a sea change in the way the state is governed by fixing accountability on officials at all levels. It has put the fear of God into the minds of officers and significantly reduced the scope for corruption.

If it is taken to its logical conclusion, it could be a real game-changer that can change the face of the state, besides serving as a role model for states and even the Centre. And given Naveen’s(Still Going Strong) determination to press ahead with it, there is no reason why it shouldn’t.

When the Naveen(Still Going Strong) government launched the demolition drive around the Shree Jagannath temple in Puri, many people had thought it had taken in more than it can chew. But three months down the line, the initial misgivings appear to have been set at rest and the protests against the drive reduced to a whimper.

The announcement of a generous compensation package for those who stand to lose their houses or shops has certainly helped mute the opposition considerably. Pilgrims to the holy town are happy that the surroundings of the temple now look cleaner and more spacious, providing hassle-free darshan.

Even the Gajapati King Dibyasingh Dev too has praised the government for its beautification initiative. Emboldened by the success in Puri, the government has now embarked on a similar initiative around the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar.

On the industrial front, work on the integrated, 10 MTPA steel plant being set up by JSW in Paradip has already begun. It promises to do what Korean giant Posco was once expected to do: secure Odisha’s place as the steel hub of the country while bringing jobs and all-round development of the area.

Though a section of the local population is opposing the setting up of the plant on land once acquired for the Posco plant, the vehemence of the protest against Posco is conspicuously missing this time around.

The government’s Jaga Mission, aimed at providing land and proper dwelling places with all basic amenities to urban slum dwellers, has received international recognition in the shape of the World Habitat Award.

Winning the bid to host the World Cup Hockey for the second time in succession was another feather on the Naveen Patnaik(Still Going Strong) government’s cap.

On the flip side, the government’s about-turn on its much-touted KALIA scheme for the agrarian community, which ensured a fifth successive win for the BJD, and its merger with PM-KISAN Yojana has caused disappointment among the beneficiaries of the scheme and provided the Opposition with a handle to beat the government with.

But given the precarious position of the state exchequer, the government hardly had a choice.

After all, the outgo on just one installment of the scheme was a whopping Rs. 2550 crores, a huge sum in a state as cash-strapped as Odisha. The same goes for the Centre’s Ayusman Yojana. Now, there is talk of merging the Biju Pucca Ghara Yojana with the PM Awas Yojana for the same reason.

On the political front, the BJD’s unqualified support to the Modi government on practically every issue since the election has caused some discomfort among its supporters and disappointed the Opposition.

The support to BJP candidate Ashwini Vaishnav in the Rajya Sabha elections in June despite the fact that his party had the numbers to win the seat hands down was particularly embarrassing for the BJD supremo. But Naveen is nothing if not a realist.

He obviously knows what he is doing and why. As the generous grant of Rs 3440 crores by the Modi government for restoration and reconstruction work in Fani-hit areas showed, Naveen(Still Going Strong) has managed to extract a price for his support. In announcing that NRC will not be implemented in Odisha, Naveen has made it clear that the Modi government cannot take his support for granted on every issue.

Politically too, his support and the Modi government’s praise for his government have caused greater damage to the BJP in the state than it has done to the BJD. The former is now well and truly defanged in the state despite being the main ‘opposition’ party in the Assembly. The state BJP is now suffering from a terrible crisis of credibility.

Overall, Naveen Patnaik’s rating in the first six months has been very good with the pluses far outnumbering the minuses.                      

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