Business Standard

Poll preparedness, sops spree marked 2018 in Odisha


Press Trust of India Bhubaneswar
Political parties in Odisha geared up for next year's assembly and Lok Sabha elections as the BJD government rolled out a slew of welfare schemes in 2018 in a bid to beat anti-incumbency amid opposition cries that the sops were aimed to grab votes.
High-octane politics eclipsed other happenings ahead of simultaneous polls in the state due early next year as the BJD left no stone unturned in its bid for a fifth consecutive term.
The BJP and the Congress, on their part, claimed Naveen Patnaik's rule will crumble under the weight of long years of anti-incumbency.
BJD leaders including Chief Minister Patnaik, however, say they enjoy "pro-incumbency" because of successful implementation of a series of development and welfare measures.
Patnaik has been chief minister since 2000.
The BJP, which was a coalition partner of the BJD-led government from 2000 to 2009, has grown ambitious after its emphatic 2014 victory. Its chief Amit Shah has set a target of winning 120 of the 147 seats in Odisha in 2019. The party is also talking of increasing its Lok Sabha tally substantially.
The BJP at present has 10 MLAs and one Lok Sabha member out of a total of 21 in Odisha.
In July, when the BJD abstained from voting in the crucial no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government, political observers thought it is due to their better ties, but with the polls nearing, the BJD and the BJP are mostly seen crossing swords.
While the Patnaik government showered a range of sops for all sections of people, the ones grabbing headlines included its health assistance programme - Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana and the state's own food security scheme - as the move drew the ire of the Centre and triggered a war of words between the BJP and the BJD.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at the BJD government for rejecting the Centre's Ayushman Bharat scheme saying the decision would deprive lakhs of people of healthcare benefits of the flagship programme.
Countering Modi, Patnaik said Odisha's scheme is better than the Centre's as it covers an extra 50 lakh people and provides Rs 7 lakh coverage to women as against Rs 5 lakh by the central programme.
Similarly, an extra 25 lakh poor people, left out of the national scheme, are covered under state's food security scheme.
The Centre and Odisha government also fought over implementation of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
As the year drew to a close, the chief minister announced a new scheme "PEETHA" on December 3 to create transparency and awareness about various programmes.
PEETHA, which stands for Peoples Empowerment-Enabling Transparency and Accountability, as sub-scheme of state's flagship Ama Gaon Ama Bikas yojana. This is part of the initiative of Technology, Transparency and Team Work model. But, opposition Congress and the BJP dubbed it as a "political stunt".
Focussing on young and first-time voters, the BJD formed Biju Yuva Vahini, an army of youth volunteers. Though it is a government scheme aiming to promote leadership, voluntarism and a healthy lifestyle among youngsters, the outfit is dubbed by the opposition as a band of ruling party goons.
In a bid to woo women, the BJD got a resolution adopted in the assembly seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in state assemblies and Parliament. Patnaik also shot off letters to the prime minister and other chief ministers besides deputing leaders to meet leaders of different political parties to push for Women's Reservation Bill.
The move drew sharp criticism from the BJP and the Congress which dubbed it as a game plan to mislead women as Odisha recorded rising crimes like rape and sexual assault.
In a blow to the BJP, its two national executive members - Rourkela MLA and former Union minister Dilip Ray and Bijoy Mohapatra - quit the party.
The year saw emergence of political violence as a tool to silence critics. While ex-MP Baijayant Panda was attacked in Mahanga area allegedly by own BJD men, former Lok Sabha member and president of Utkal Bharat party Kharabela Swain was assaulted, allegedly by ruling party workers, in Rayagada, Kendrapara and Balasore apparently for airing their views on the government.
Panda, who was suspended for anti-party activities in January, resigned from the party in May after 18 years of association.
Veteran leader Damodar Rout, considered as a close confidant of late Biju Patnaik, was expelled from the BJD after he spoke about corruption in various spheres. Rout floated a new party named after Biju Patnaik.
The state was hit by the very severe cyclonic storm, Titli, and subsequent floods and landslides in October claimed over 75 human lives, severely affected around 60.31 lakh people in 128 blocks of 17 districts.
Seeking to give a message to the people that the state was an ideal destination for investors, the government organised the second edition of 'Make in Odisha' conclave in November.
Left-wing extremism continued to pose a serious threat in many parts of the state, though Maoist violence had gradually come down. Twelve people were killed in Maoist attack in Odisha between January and November 15, 2018, according to official sources.
Winding up the year, the BJD government launched a massive publicity campaign around the Men's Hockey World Cup held in Bhubaneswar, projecting it as an icing on the cake of a successful 2018.

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First Published: Dec 28 2018 | 4:55 PM IST

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