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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

Development Disgrace; Rich Gods, Goddesses, Poor People and Religious Expenditure in Odisha | Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Friday 5 January 2024


“If gods, goddesses, and their abodes require state and government support for their survival and revival, citizens must abandon such gods, goddesses, governments, and electoral politics surrounding them. Instead, they should focus on their own development based on science, secularism, and human solidarity enabled by technology."

The BJD led Government of Odisha under the leadership of Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik is pandering to Hindutva majoritarian politics by spending huge amount of resources to revive and reconstruct religious places. The so called ‘People’s Budget- 2022-2023’ has allocated ₹1950 crore rupees for religious and cultural places which is a 97% budget increase whereas only 12% increase for education and skills development, and 38% increase for health sector in the budget. It shows the priority of Mr Naveen Patnaik’s government in Odisha. The religious expenditure is a non-merit good, which has no short- and long-term dividends for the people and the planet in the state. Gods and goddess get lions share in the so called ‘People’s Budget’ in Odisha when people suffer from all forms of marginalisation. The religious expenditure to promote gods and goddess promote obscurantist ideas in society, which provides fertile ground for Hindutva forces to grow in Odisha. In this way, BJD is creating the foundations for the growth of BJP in Odisha.

If various reports are accurate, the Government of Odisha is allocating a substantial ₹4,224.22 crore for the Shree Mandir Parikrama Project. The government plans to spend ₹135.88 crore to disseminate information about the Shree Mandira Parikrama Prakalpa at the local level, with an additional ₹20 crore allocated to transport people from all over the state to Puri to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the Shree Mandir Parikrama Project after its completion. The government has also commenced spending ₹360 crores on promoting popular schemes and the Jaganath temple project at the grassroots level. Additionally, ₹224 crore has been allocated for the ABADHA (prasada offered during lunch) scheme by the government. The state government has announced the Ekamra Kshetra Amenities and Monuments Revival Action Plan, worth around ₹700 crore, for the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar. Furthermore, the State government has sanctioned ₹112 crore for the development of the Mahima Gadi in Joranda. The Chief Minister has also earmarked a ₹200 crore package for the Samaleswari shrine development. In 2021 alone, the government has spent more than ₹2000 crores on various temple renovations in the name of tourism development. Apart from these expenditures, most religious places of worship have either received or are waiting to receive a massive amount of funding from the Odisha government.

These wasteful expenditures epitomize the directionless governance and democratic development disgrace of the BJD government in Odisha. Gods and goddesses do not require government support; devotees have sustained them for centuries without any state or government patronage. The politics of religious expenditure on various places of worship in Odisha is not the answer to Hindutva politics. The promotion of human, secular, progressive, democratic, liberal, and constitutional values can be the only response to the politics of hate perpetuated by Hindutva.

The religious expenditure by the Government of Odisha under the leadership of Mr. Naveen Patnaik only accelerates Hindutva politics in the state. Despite visible and invisible practices of caste, Odia society is relatively liberal and inclusive when it comes to diverse religious and cultural practices. The BJD government is undermining such a society by monetizing religious places for short-term electoral gain, but Hindutva politics is likely to be the beneficiary of such funding for religious places in the state in the long run.

The schools, colleges, universities, and educational institutions in the state lack toilets, classrooms, teachers, and modern educational infrastructure. Similarly, hospitals lack modern facilities, and the existing amenities are inadequate. The condition of health and education is in a deteriorated state. The alarming unemployment rate does not seem to concern the government. The oppressive conditions for workers force people to migrate as bonded laborers to other states in India. There is a lack of focus on human development and the empowerment of people, with the government under the leadership of Mr. Naveen Patnaik in Odisha relying more on populist electoral gimmicks rather than addressing substantive issues.

In this context, the religious expenditure by the Government of Odisha is a development disgrace. It points to conditions where the elusive pursuit of progress is marred by issues such as corruption, exploitation, inequality, and insufficient attention to social justice and citizenship rights. Often, a lack of transparency, mismanagement of resources, and failure to address the needs of marginalized populations contribute to a sense of disgrace associated with development efforts. Many times, these challenges are rooted in governance failures and the misallocation of resources.

The Government of Odisha is concealing all its development disgrace with the help of its religious engagement. These populist religious expenditures are wasteful but effective tools of electoral propaganda. However, these gimmicks will not be effective, as people derive their consciousness from the material and non-material foundations of their work."

The four decades of liberalization, privatization, and globalization facilitated by the state and governments have allowed market forces to permeate every nook and corner of society. States and governments have crafted policies to support this project, establishing a market-led democracy where society is monetized, and majoritarian states are led by religious governments. This process has effectively demonetized the currency of citizenship rights. The development and empowerment of citizenship are no longer the priorities of governments like the Government of Odisha.

Mr. Naveen Patnaik claims that ’each bone of his body is secular,’ but his politics pursues policies that prioritize religious expenditure at the expense of human development and happiness in the state. It is a development disgrace led by the Mr. Naveen Patnaik government, facilitating the consolidation of a monetized society, religious government, majoritarian state, and demonetized citizens in Odisha. The call for politics based on a mass movement can only reverse such a process of development disgrace in the state, empowering people and ensuring a secular state and government in Odisha.

(Author: Bhabani Shankar Nayak, University of Glasgow, UK)

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