17 years of a stable government and the first thing that comes to mind when people say Odisha is poor people; poverty everywhere.
17 years of a stable government and the first thing that comes to mind when people say Odisha is poor people; poverty everywhere. In 2004-05, the Tendulkar Committee put Odisha as the poorest state in the country with the maximum proportion of poor at 57.2%. The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government was in government for 5 years at the time. In May 2014, a committee headed by former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan proposed an index of backwardness of a region based on per capita consumption expenditure, education, health, household amenities, poverty rate, female literacy, percentage of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe population, urbanisation rate, financial inclusion and physical connectivity. And Odisha still stays in the top as the most backward state in the country. Naveen Patnaik had been the Chief Minister of the state for 14 years at the time. The fact of the matter was, Odisha was not developing. Cut to February 16, 2017, and Odisha’s BJP General Secretary, Suresh Pujari will tell you that the state has only become poorer.
Surely, the statistics are better, you would say. Aye, yes definitely better. As it is supposed to be. People have started earning more than they did in 2005. But that is not a comparison even worth mentioning. On a comparative basis, according to the report by the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Odisha is the third highest in infant mortality rate with 53 deaths per 1000, while having the highest death rate (8.5) against the then national average of 7.0. And all these statistics go completely against every excuse any government could provide for the lack of development in the state. Odisha has had a stable government for 17 years. The Biju Janata Dal has never needed any allies since 2000 and has won with an absolute majority.
But that trend seems to be have been changing. The Panchayat elections which were conducted in Odisha in 5 phases saw BJP grabbing 71 seats in the first phase. In 2012, BJP had managed merely 12 seats. To sum it up in a better manner, BJP had won a total of 36 seats of the 853 seats in 2012. This is an alarming trend and Suresh Pujari agrees. Pujari was of the opinion that the people of Odisha have been plagued in the last 17 years due to a stagnant and unresponsive rule of the Naveen Patnaik government. He said that the people are fed up of BJD’s scams, and its policies. One being asked about the BJD’s success in providing schemes such as RS 5 meals and “1 rupee chawal”, Pujari stated that the BJD wanted people to remain poor, uneducated, to be dependent on the government to provide them with food and shelter. He said that when the BJP comes to power in Odisha, the government would provide the people with employment opportunities and to make their own living. He said that almost all of these schemes were subsidised by the central government; the BJD has simply taken the credits for them. He said that the education system needed to be more than just “mid-day meals”. He admitted to a lack of teachers and quality education in schools and colleges.
Speaking of healthcare facilities in the state, Suresh Pujari said that the services were inadequate. He informed that the number of doctors was poorly disproportionate to the number of people in the state. He cited the example of the “Dana Majhi” incident, where the poor man had to carry the body of his wife for over 10 km after the hospital had refused an ambulance citing the lack of it. Pujari was of the opinion that if the man was educated and knew his rights, he would have stayed at the hospital, demanding, what was his right. Speaking about the poor hygiene in government hospitals, he says that the government has not done anything to improve it. Pujari admits to the improvement of infrastructure and availability of modern equipment but claims that there are not enough people to handle them.
On being asked about BJP’s improved performance in the Panchayat polls and the party’s aspirations to throw the Naveen Patnaik-government out of power, the BJP state GS said that the party was confident of winning the 2019 state assembly polls as the people wanted a change. People voted Congress out in 2014 after a decade of corruption and bad governance and they would do the same with BJD in Odisha, bringing the BJP to power in the state, he added. There was another question that still remained. BJP at best, despite its increasing support, is still a faceless party in the state. To this Pujari said that people voted for a symbol. And BJP did not have a face in Maharashtra or Haryana and still won with an absolute majority. Besides, for years we had been in no position to win the times and hence there was no point in having a face, he says. But to quote Bob Dylan, “Times are a Changin” and BJP has finally caught sight of the last fortress they need to conquer.