BY BISWARAJ PATNAIK IN PURI, JULY 10, 2017 : The Athletics event at Bhubaneswar was not an Odisha event. It was a national occasion which the President, the Prime Minister and top dignitaries from all walks of life should have graced to keep India’s image high. This never happened. The BJP-led NDA government purposefully avoided the grandly organised event lest the BJD  should gain extra mileage out of the show.

The Chief Justice of Odisha came there to give away medals, but the Governor kept away, despite being a great statesman and a non-partisan, respectably neutral politician. Except for the chief of Sports Authority of India, no other dignitary of substance showed face. The Modi administration has done disservice to the nation.

The opening ceremony on the 5 July evening has proven beyond doubt that magnificent people’s events can happen in Odisha with the shortest notice. The glitter and glamour displayed that evening with world class fireworks display, have confounded critics and cynics alike.

Odisha grabbed the opportunity of hosting the big event when Jharkhand backed out at the last moment. Forward states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu or Kerala did not dare volunteer to save the face of India only because of the short preparation period of ‘ninety days only’. Interestingly, the Naveen administration picked the task card coolly to prove that the ‘Asian event’ was no big deal.

The Odisha administrators came together as a fabulous team and finished everything perfectly to the last brim and border quite on time. The near-primitive Kalinga Stadium has been transformed into a world class athletics arena in flat three months. Coincidentally, Injeti Srinivas, the chief Sports administrator of India has extended all support blindly to the state organisers. This incomparable administrator from the Odisha IAS cadre has made the sports environment in India highly conducive and productive only by dedicated efforts at making the Sports Authority of India absolutely efficient and transparent. Sports masters across the country say another ‘Injeti Srinivas’ is unlikely to happen in near future unless God desires.

Not surprisingly, the visiting guests from abroad and within are likely to be curious to know why or how Odisha appears so fit and fine against Modi’s bitter portrayal of the state as one of abject poverty and misery.

Hence the realities better be told :

• Odisha is the only state to have doubled farmers’ income in the last ten years
• From a grain-deficit region, it has become the third biggest contributor to the Public Distribution System.
• Agriculture credit has increased 25-fold.
• Dramatic drop by 25 per cent in rural poverty levels.
• In absolute figures, 80 lakh (0.8 million) poor people have gone above the poverty line.
• ‘Mission Shakti’ has 40 lakh happy women in its fold today.
• One million tribal girls are being given education scholarship including three lakh of themput up in comfortable hostels.
• Infant Mortality Rate has slid down to 40 from 90, which is far better than the National average.
• Three million mothers are benefitting at any given point in time under the ‘Mamata’ scheme.
• Most encouraging fact is that more than half of the Panchayat (rural governance) leaders are women.

More than 700 athletes from around 45 countries would participate in 42 events— 21 each for men and women. This is the third time that India gets to host the big event. Delhi got it in 1989 and Pune in 2013. So called forward states like Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab or Haryana could not muster enough courage to bid when Jharkhand fainted at the last moment. Odisha just took it on without worry or anxiety as the local authorities considered the event as child’s play.

The winners of the Bhubaneswar Asian meet will compete at the World Championships in London between 4 and 13 August this year. The mammoth task was over with methodical planning and closely monitored execution by working a little overtime and being on the overdrive. The administrators from all domains have put in their best to make a dream come true on a record time. All this has been possible because the state is not as poor, backward or incapable as the kind PM has religiously been tainting it.

With a complete international makeover, the stadium is now studded with Olympic-standard synthetic tracks, most modern player facilities, state-of-the-art lighting systems, superb practice grounds, tracks and spectator comfort.

The remarkable process of transforming the stadium has been visually chronicled for posterity. The video is available publicly so that potential sports organisers will be able to learn failsafe techniques for holding big events.

Five athletes from Odisha have found place in the 95-member Indian contingent for the great event: Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda, Amiya Mallick, Purnima Hembram and Jauna Murmu, Amiya, Srabani and Dutee will be competing in the 100-metre sprint, 200-metre run and 4×100-metre relay events. Jauna will compete in 400 metre hurdles, and Purnima will try to grab a prize in the heptathlon event.

Odisha is not lagging behind at all. It is surging ahead. The opposing political painters are only portraying the wrong picture.

The people of Odisha are simple and are learning to fight for their rights rather late. They trust the Naveen mystique as recognised by the credible magazine ‘India Today’. They are aghast that Chhattisgarh is heartlessly sucking away scarce Mahanadi waters in the summer season and releasing the overflowing rain waters in the monsoon period from their clandestinely built barrages and minor dams. Thus the neighbouring state keeps gifting Odisha severe droughts in summer and huge floods during the rains. Modi is doing precious little to resolve the national impasse despite repeated appeals for legitimate help.

Very amusingly, the two Odisha-born Union Ministers have shown monumental cold responses towards the grand Asian event in Bhubaneswar. JualOram who was expected to sit around with the sports authorities of Odisha day in and day out, has finally said he has prior appointments elsewhere; so he can’t be present at the big show.

Dharmendra Pradhan who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar may turn up- it seems much against his will- only because it’s a great national event which only because his absence would be shamefully conspicuous.

The tribal leader who loves to be called ‘Jewel’ instead of his real name ‘Jual’ has turned indifferent to all good things happening in his home state because his party bosses do not want him to speak good of the ruling BJD government. Insignificant success in the last Panchayat elections has made the central BJP leaders very optimistic about capturing Odisha in 2019. The fact that BJP has no big face to attract votes and that infighting is getting more and more severe by the day, is purposefully kept hidden from the party bosses, though the true visuals and the sounds are difficult to keep away from the eyes and ears of anyone in the country.

Atal Bihar Vajpayee, as prime minister, managed the BJP like a perfect statesman. But it looks as if Modi takes pride in being partial and partisan. Maybe he is under pressure from the party strategists to do so. Jual Oram claims to be an aboriginal tribal fellow who is forest-based and lives with nature.

But his own people say that he cannot walk barefoot, hold the bow-arrow device rightly, even distinguish a hare from a rabbit, sleep well on the floor of a thatch-roof house without windows, and travel on a public transport bus as an ordinary commoner. Only recently he was seen swallowing merrily ethnic tribal food along with a fellow non-Odia party leader before the television cameras in a tribal household.
All this to prove that he is still with the poor people. The innocent ‘forest man’ has been riding luxury sports utility hatchbacks for long, the cabin air conditioner hardly turned off.

Dharmendra Pradhan is a nice guy but he apes Modi so mindlessly that the listeners lose patience and begin to suffer from the drudgery too soon. His harangues therefore not only irritate audiences, they mostly turn counterproductive for their big party.

The BJP leaders are brazenly cold-shouldering the Odisha organisers too glaringly. What Modi should have opened yesterday with pride, Naveen did decently with humility. The Asian event is of course proving to be a grand success. Modi instead chose to land in Israel, the compulsive international tourist that he has turned with a vengeance ever since the moment he became head of state.

The Asian event has begun and closed too well. But the fact of BJP masters having ignored the national event on grounds of political rivalry, will remain recorded in pages of history, and very unfortunately so.

The Modi administration has been exposed as mean and partisan even when great national events are being staged to show case the country in good light- the region in particular as an exciting part of the country, to gain respect of the international communities and reap benefits immensely from the relationships built during such rare occasions.

Modi was just beginning to gain some popularity by populist promises. But now it seems Odisha will be too difficult for him to bring under the NDA umbrella in 2019.