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Home > 2024 > Naveen Patnaik’s Attempts to Saffronise Odisha | Radhakanta Barik

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 20, May 18, 2024

Naveen Patnaik’s Attempts to Saffronise Odisha | Radhakanta Barik

Friday 17 May 2024, by Radhakanta Barik


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s crude comment against the Chief Minister of Odisha, about Naveen Patnaik not knowing the names of thirty districts in the State, has created furor in Odisha just before people vote in the General Elections. Patnaik has been ruling this State for more than five terms now, with a bigger majority as years go by but he does not exhibit his arrogance as Modi does. His political style is a sophisticated one. The best example of this was in the 2009 elections when the Bharatiya Janata Party sent Naveen’s friend and prominent intellectual and leader of the BJP, Chandan Mitra to negotiate an alliance between the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP. The two friends met cordially, shared drinks and talked of many things including politics, and then Naveen Patnaik came out of his home in the late evening to say goodbye to his old friend Mitra. At the gate of his home, the CM called a press conference and announced that the BJD would not have any alliance with BJP. That is Patnaik’s style.

Odisha’s incumbent CM also replied to Modi’s mindless rhetoric in a subtle language, saying that the BJP will not come to power in Odisha for the next ten years. This is a better way to deal with arrogant Modi which explains two distinct styles in politics.

Modi and Naveenbabu are friends but suddenly, they are falling apart which needs some explanations. Modi wanted indirect support from Naveen Patnaik in the 2019 General Election which he gave. For instance, Bhubaneswar was not the constituency of the BJP but Aparajita Sarangi won from here because of Patnaik’s support. The whole five years until now, Patnaik has supported the Modi government, including the legislation for the Delhi Government that has to be monitored by the Lt Governor of Delhi, which is a blow to any provincial government but Naveen Patnaik, nevertheless supported Modi.

This kowtowing with the BJP is a disastrous path that Naveen Patnaik has followed, which is against the interests of the State of Odisha. The BJP’s Aswini Vaishnaw got the support of BJD MLAs to become a Rajya Sabha MP. This is strange but true. Then Modi wanted all the MP seats (21) for the BJP to contest and only one hundred seats in the assembly (out of 147) for the BJD and other seats for BJP to contest.

While, the BJD agreed to the formula in principle, things went off track because the party MLAs opposed the alliance with the BJP. This may be the reason behind Modi’s anger but telling the five-times Chief Minister that he cannot tell the names of thirty districts is an absurd proposition. Patnaik is the leader of Odisha and has ruled for five terms and making him an adversary is a bad move as Modi’s party is going lose all most all the MP seats and most of the MLA seats now on.

Temple Before School

Politics is a difficult art and no amount of understanding is sufficient to explain what happens in politics and how leadership works. Naveen Patnaik has been ruling for twenty- four years without interruption. He is a highly educated person and his Doon School and Delhi University background speak for itself. This helps in understanding the history, sociology and economics but not the real art of politics. But Naveen Patnaik must have learnt the art of politics by sitting on the dining table and listening to his father Biju Patnaik who was a stalwart in Indian politics and in every coalition government he was the king-maker – be it 1977 or 1989. Biju was Chief Minister for two terms and for one term, his party got elected but he gave the CM seat it to his friend Nilmani Rautray.

Naveen’s understanding of politics from his father, whose knowledge turned Bhubaneshwar into a cultural capital, if not an economic capital, happened in a subtle way. Naveen Patnaik understands the nuances of the art of politics. This is the most difficult art and science to have mastery over. He knows the importance of Kendrapara and Ganjam which endows him a special political power in this region. Till today, the BJD have not lost these places and they have extended this knowledge to other districts. His knowledge of districts and constituencies are profound. He keeps track of his elected MLAs and the powerbrokers in the districts and all the grassroot workers of the party. Modi, by telling Naveen Patnaik that he does not know the names of districts, shows his own ignorance.

It is true that a lot of public money got spent in the medieval times in the region, which made the State of Odisha a poor State. It declined so fast that it was easily overtaken by the Marathas and the English. Both ruined the economy and destroyed the society which resulted in hunger and famine. Millions of people died of the 1866, famine which resulted in the decline of Odisha society. For more than a decade, there was an absence of the working class in Balasore and other districts. Today, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has wasted public money in constructing a heritage corridor to the Jagannath temple, an area where 60 per cent of people are anaemic. He also spent public money on the reconstruction of Sambalsweri temple and some other temples. Naveen Patnaik’s saffronisation policy has resulted in the closing of 8,000 primary schools and most of the districts do not have medical colleges, which he has promised for long. A modern State should have prioritised schools and colleges over temples.

The BJP talks of ‘Odiya Asmita’ which makes people of Odisha laugh. Their leader, Pratap Sadangi, took oath as MLA in Odisha assembly in Sanskrit and he led a group that started propagating that Sanskrit was our mother tongue and Bharat Varsa was our mother land. They do not recognise Odiya language and Odiya nationality. They do not believe in linguistic States of India, nor respect any language. For them Hindi Hindu and Hindu Rastra, all three are critical for thinking. Sadangi was a member of the gang that conspired to kill Graham Stains and his two children; they were great philanthropist and served the cause of leprosy patients. It brought defame to Odisha’s cultural identity. Naveen Patnaik does not speak Odiya himself his political speeches are recorded speeches which got played everywhere.

He, as a leader of one of the biggest regional party, functions like God Father. He rarely meets his cabinet members or party leaders but collects information from each corner from his people through email or mobile phone. And he takes decisions by processing this information himself, without consulting anyone. One example is the case of a murder of a Dalit youth by police firing in Patamundai. Information reached the CM sometime in the evening and he advised his local leaders to pay six lakh of rupees to the family so that there would be no protest. This happened in the night and in the morning, everything was a cool political move. He survives like God Father in taking each decision but politics demand consultation and discussion and interaction with civil society, which he does not do.

Modi speaking loudly against Naveen Patnaik may be a real story, but it is clear that the BJP cannot win the assembly elections in Odisha. They started trying with the 2002 polls when the BJP sent all the fanatic leaders to experiment in the State, like a second Gujarat-like laboratory, but this has not produced any results. Today, Gujarat’s politics has been hijacked by the traders who control the reins of power. Modi, as the leader, had organised the communal mobilisation of the Patel community to collect votes.

Odisha does not have a trading class, nor a powerful cultivating Patel community to fight for the BJP. The most powerful high castes such as Brahmins and Karans are the backbone of the BJD, rather than the BJP. They tried to accommodate a section of the Khandayat community, that is the Paiks who worked for them in 2019. Today they are disillusioned with the BJP. The other communities like Gopal, Dalit and tribals are against the BJP. Naveen Patnaik is facing a real threat from the Congress rather than the BJP, which makes Modi call the BJD as one nearing the ‘expiry date’.

Naveen Patnaik’s saffronisation policy has resulted in the growth of one community, a community of powerful fish exporters and export companies in Bhubaneswar. The exporters and their employees live in palatial homes, guarded by international bodyguards and move in BMW cars. The people of Odisha remain malnourished and anaemic. NFPS studies show that sixty per cent of women here are anaemic and we live in a paradoxical situation where the export of fish brings a lot of foreign exchange.

Seafood export climbed to 86,481 metric tonnes worth Rs 4526.23 crore in 2021-22 fiscal while it stood at 60,718 metric tons worth Rs 3107.68 crore in 2020-21, the Minister in charge said in a written reply to a query by BJD MLA Ramesh Chandra Behera. The State has planned to enhance the export value in coming years, but Odisha is following the footsteps of north Indian beef exporters who have paid heavily to the election bond but people are not allowed to eat beef.

Naveenbabu follows in the footsteps of Modi and Adityanath. Naveen’s policy of saffronisation has pushed people to wait for a day in a week to have a non-veg meal. They wait for Wednesday to eat fish, meat and chicken. This is for a coastal population living on fish all year round. The government has created terror among the Dalits who eat beef. The British made them a criminal caste, on the advice of high castes and today Naveen Patnaik, working on the advice of upper castes who function to help him in spreading saffronisation, also does the same. If you are in a district town of Balasore, you may not get fish for weeks. Patnaik has banned eating of fish for the whole month of Kartik and takes widows Puri under the government aegis but without paying pension to them.

Naveen’s BJD functions just like the BJP and the only difference is that instead of P it ends with D. People have opposed this policy in the past and they will oppose it today. During Chaitany’s time, they accepted his religious moral philosophy but not his vegetarianism for which Chaitany is reported to have said: Bol Bol Hari, Khaya magur machhar jhol. (Say Hari’s name after feasting on catfish stew.) Naveen Patnaik needs to take lessons from history, or he does not understand Odiya history.

The Advani Disciple

A famous political cartoonist Abu used to draw a tall person talking to two others. This cartoon is appropriate here. The tall person standing between two persons is Advani, who is standing with two persons: one hand on Modi and another hand on Naveen. Both are enjoying power, and both contribute to the Hinduisation process of Indian thinking. Modi’s contribution is known to everyone but Naveen’s story is relatively unknown.

After coming to power, Naveen first started manipulating the market for the cause of Hindutva. He started controlling the fish market on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday which still prevails. In the name of Hanuman, Tuesday is without non-veg. Hanuman was not a Odiya god but the day got celebrated and he allowed the Hindutva forces to install Hanuman statues in market areas and in cities and in big villages. A District Collector of Cuttack District, Aurobindo Padhi, investigated the matter and found illegal construction of Hanuman and Ram have been done in the river beds of Cuttack town. The number was 250. He ordered demolition of these temples which got stopped by the vested interests and he went to the Supreme Court and got the order of demolishing of these illegal temples. Before starting the demolition process, he was transferred by the Naveen Patnaik government.

Returning from the USA on his father’s recall, Naveen Patnaik first went to meet his friends in Delhi’s Khan market. They advised him to go to Gurugram to get some political training. He went from Khan Market to the ashram of Guru Dronaacharya, L K Advani and found his disciple was Modi who had been trained while he was leading the Ram mandir movement. Naveen Patnaik became the second disciple of Advani who trained him to rule Odisha. For ten years now, both of them have shared the power cake together and Advani is monitored both. As Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik invited Advani to inaugurate the park in Bhubaneswar named after BJP founder Shyamaprasad Mukerjee. Very often the MLAs of BJD go to Advani to put in a word to Naveen to do some favour for others. Some candidates, before the assembly election, come to take blessings of Advani. Both of his disciples are ruling over Delhi and Bhubaneswar.

Let me tell you a parable. After the death of Biju Patnaik, six sheep working in his garden went in search of a wolf. They looked for one in America – one who had no idea of the Odiya language or culture but one who had moved there and was staying with his sister, a book publisher. They found a man-eater wolf but they invited him to the soil of Odisha. When he came to Odisha, there were no prey and he found these six sheep moving in his father’s garden and the wolf enjoyed the flesh of these animals. The wolf started growing as a man-eater and searched for other prey and he found the MNCs who wanted to extract minerals from the soil, and he pushed the tribals away and allowed these companies to extract the minerals illegally.

Odisha politics is changing, perhaps this changing politics will be articulated in the election politics of 2024. The BJP’s demand for Congress-mukt Bharat was really engineered by Naveen Patnaik. He bought all the top political workers of the Congress in Odisha into the BJD fold. It is a party without ideology which falls in the soft pro-Hindutva category. Patnaik abandoned the path of governance long ago to embrace religious revivalism in Odisha by investing public money in three temples: Jagannatha where the poor cannot enter as there is a dress code. Sambaleswari temple where the precinct’s purity and sanctity is violated as the Marwaris have built a Hanuman temple here.

What are the reasons behind the prevailing of living Buddhism in Odisha? Buddhism was the dominant religion till the tenth century, of the kings and rural masses. Hinduism led by the Brahmins killed the Buddhist monks in the most conservative city of Odisha, Jajpur ,where the king had invited the Brahmins from Kaunuj. The Brahmins, thus, became the key actors in the palace politics of the king but could not dominate the popular religion prevailing among people, which is still Buddhism. Most of the rural people have started boycotting the Shiva temple but visit the Thakuranis, who are the extension of Buddhism be it Katak Chandi or Sambelswari who symbolise peace and harmony.

Jagannath Dharma brings synthesis between popular Buddhism and best parts of Hinduism. Blending of both turn into a living tradition till the dharma of Ram and Hanuman reached the province of Kalinga twenty years ago with the rise of the Ratha yatra of Advani carrying Ram. From Kalinga, the people had once upon a time travelled to Sri Lanka to propagate Buddhism. They settled there. Respect for raw meat and non-veg such as fish and meat are popular among common people even today.Hinduism of Odisha is non-hierarchical and based on plebeian love and brotherhood. Castes are there but live in a shared space without dominating each other. Can Jagannath Dharma succeed in defeating the Ram-Hanuman cult?

Naveen Patnaik came to power in 2000. By allowing mining to be exploited by MNCs and Ambani Adani, Patnaik has clearly allotted all the natural resources for the rich and powerful, including the gods. The Puri coast has been privatized, now owned by hotel owners. The forests of Odisha are on sale and tribals as the protector of the forest is soon going to become a myth as the rich are being allowed to buy his or her forest land. Patnaik’s politics is sitting in an air-conditioned room without meeting people or his own elected representatives or cabinet members and giving some cash to some families in crisis. Meanwhile, all the mining and deforestation is causing the State’s real temperatures to rise just as the political temperature is also rising.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech, talking of five guarantees for young women and farmers and workers, where Modi and Patnaik talk of temples has made a difference this summer. Gandhi’s first meeting was in Kendrapara which tells us, that the one who captured Kendrapara, rules over Odisha. The political space went to Biju Patnaik in 1971 after he lost seven constituencies, which made him go to Rajnagar which made him a hero. This was Prahalad Malik’s constituency, he who won two constituencies – one general and another reserved – which made history in Indian politics. Malik handed over the general constituency Rajnagar to Biju Patnaik and eventually, the whole space got controlled by Biju Babu who soon became the MP from Kendrapara. His son nurtured the constituency and ruled twenty years. Naveen Patnaik did not nurture the constituency in any way by renewing industrialisation of Kendrapara, however. Today the Congress is entering Kendrapara in a bold move, which can change the political atmosphere of Odisha in favour of the Congress.

[Edited by Papri Sri Raman]

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