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Biju Janata Dal: Signal for Change

The rejection of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recently held municipal elections in Orissa and the simultaneous endorsement of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal give an opportunity to the BJD to sever its connections with the National Democratic Alliance. By breaking free from the communal politics of the BJP, the BJD will only be living up to the ideals of its founder, Biju Patnaik, and can, if it wants to, rediscover itself as a secular party committed to the interests of the working poor.

COMMENTARY

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Biju Janata Dal: Signal for Change

Biswamoy Pati

The rejection of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recently held municipal elections in Orissa and the simultaneous endorsement of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal give an opportunity to the BJD to sever its connections with the National Democratic Alliance. By breaking free from the communal politics of the BJP, the BJD will only be living up to the ideals of its founder, Biju Patnaik, and can, if it wants to, rediscover itself as a secular party committed to the interests of the working poor.

Biswamoy Pati (biswamoypati@hotmail.com) is a historian with Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University.

T
he post-Gujarat “Hindutva laboratory” set up so carefully over the last two decades in Orissa seems to be in trouble, with the political chemistry clearly signalling change. Starting with the municipal elections held in Bhubaneshwar last December which saw the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) securing a convincing victory, the ruling party seems to be on a winning spree. It won 37 out of the 54 wards it contested in the Cuttack Municipal Corporation elections. Besides, in Baripada (Mayurbhanj) the BJD won 14 of the 28 wards where it had put up its candidates.

What is of course extremely significant is that the BJD’s victory coexists with the routing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

– its political ally in Orissa.

This particular aspect needs to be noted carefully especially since the victory of the BJD at Cuttack heralds the end of the BJP’s 10-year long domination. In fact, the present elections have decimated the BJP in Cuttack as well as in Baripada: in Cuttack the BJP won just two seats, in Baripada its position was a bit better with a tally of seven seats. In a similar manner the BJP stands rejected in Phulbani and G Udayagiri in Kandhamal district.

Significantly, the position of the Congress is hardly anything different. The party won eight seats in Cuttack and just one in Baripada. Thus, even after all the “oxygen” that has been pumped in to revive the party to usher in a “post-Janaki Ballabh Patnaik era” the people of Orissa are far from being convinced about this posturing. It is perhaps this aspect that gives a clear signal about the lack of people’s faith in the Congress.

BJD’s Future

It is in this context that the BJD needs to think about its political future. If anything, it has to rethink seriously about continuing its bankrupt economic policies that have caused immense damage to its image. These range from the bloodbath that led to the death of 13 tribals in the police firing that was organised under its aegis at Kalinganagar in 2006 to the way it has handled “project” bauxite-mining in western Orissa. After all, it is time that the BJD realised that it is not possible to plan economic development without taking on board the people of the state. In fact, the government policies have caused immense suffering to the tribals and dalits of Orissa, and are antithetical to the dreams of the founder of the BJD – the late Bijayanada Patnaik (also known as “Biju” Patnaik).

Another point that the BJD needs to ponder about relates to the polarised communalisation in the state. Its political alliance with the fascist Sangh parivar has caused immense damage to the secular image of the BJD. What has been happening in Kandhamal is another dimension that has tarnished the image of the BJD. The breakdown of the law and order machinery in that tract has most certainly made the people of Orissa rethink the BJP component of the BJD-BJP alliance. After all, the terror strikes aimed to massacre and rape minorities and the poor dalits have been plotted, planned and executed by the Sangh parivar outfits, with attacks even on Hindus. These have led to untold miseries in what happens to be one of the poorest regions of the country. The wounds are yet to heal, given the large-scale desertion of dalits and Christians to the forests and subsequently to relief camps. The BJD thus has to rethink very seriously

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

about continuing its political tango with its ally, with which it shares power.

In fact, it is here that the BJP’s formal effort to reinvoke its “full-time party m ember” – Ram – to the political sphere assumes serious significance. Besides inviting flak from the chief minister of Bihar and the BJD, this renewed focus on the Ram and Ayodhya issue signals the tremors that might shake the very foundations of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as we move closer to the general elections. Moreover, it also indicates the BJP’s political bankruptcy and its inability to take up any issue that has anything to do with the broader problems related to the “meltdown” or those affecting the millions of India’s poor. In fact, the invocation of Ram once again demonstrates rather sharply what the BJP-led NDA rule had very clearly demonstrated – that it shares the Congress’ bankrupt economic visions and policies.

It is in this context that the BJD has to rethink its role and position and the unresolved problems and contradictions that it has in many ways exacerbated in Orissa. This exercise should involve serious thinking about a possible political realignment tuned to regional political aspirations that was not fulfilled by the Congress in the past. In fact, the BJD also needs to consider the serious dangers posed by the Sangh

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parivar outfits to the social fabric which have made the BJP a serious liability.

One can only hope that the Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik revisits the alliance that had been tried by the late Biju Patnaik but was later abandoned, since it had turned out inconvenient to implement basic features like land reforms and plan development with a “human face”– features that have been antithetical to the post-colonial visions of all the political formations in O rissa. If this agenda is taken up once again by the BJD, they could constitute a serious p olitical alternative that offers something meaningful to the people of Orissa and thereby change the future of the state.

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Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

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