By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, January 5, 2018: After nine years of collaborative run with BJD, the overconfident BJP insisted on a bigger pound of flesh in seat sharing for the 2009 elections. BJD knew well that the saffron masters had lost credibility among the masses. But the arrogant BJP leaders remained adamant. So, BJD had to show them the door.

The election verdict was shockingly galling for the BJP. Ever since that shameful defeat in 2009, Bharatiya Janata Party has been making all possible efforts, in vain though, to defame Naveen Patnaik and capture Odisha. They are thoroughly aware of the fact that Naveen’s star power is uniquely immeasurable.

BJP cadres were excited when Payri Mahapatra was dismissed from the fold in 2012 as pollsters had forecast that BJD without Pyari would crumble like a house of cards. Naveen was a novice and his brain lay in Pyari’s skull. So, in 2014, when BJD was not even expected to hit even ninety seats, Naveen made history with 117.

BJP super brains like Modi and Amit Shah had materialised in the national arena by then but failed to make any impact in Odisha despite some kind of ‘Modi wave’ sweeping some parts of India. The simple people of Odisha had conclusively discarded the BJP after Vajpayee was gone, Advani ignored and many other credible, adored leaders were tossed into oblivion.

In Naveen’s coalition cabinet until 2009, the BJP elements are known to have messed up every portfolio under command mainly revenue and urban development. The urban development ministers had gone overboard to dole out land to undeserving creatures under the discretionary quota schemes. Even some High Court judges are known to have stolen ‘land’ from the successive BJP ministers for quid pro quo.

None ever looked up the Constitution enshrining the ‘doctrine of public trust’ that prevents the executive from grabbing any discretionary power to dole out scarce natural resources including land. People-friendly revenue reforms have been virtually nil during the period. Interestingly, some of the BJD rebels who joined the saffron bandwagon got dismissed for ever.

Often described as a ‘cowbelt party’, the BJP is mad to shrug off the tag and turn truly pan-Indian. It managed to get Assam recently only due to the ‘Congress misrule’ there. SP in UP too fell due to horrific anti incumbency factors. But Odisha is still in awe of Naveen for the voters strongly believe no other leader would be as clean and simple.

The enigmatic Odisha Chief Minister’s uninterrupted winning streak in defiance of anti-incumbency has baffled all opponents. His appeal and charisma, both among the rural poor and the growing middle class, have remained intact.

Gujarat has a lot to learn from Odisha which has developed faster only because the Naveen administration has ensured that benefits accrue to the poorest. In Gujarat, growth has bypassed the real poor.

Between 2009 and 2012, Odisha managed to reduce rural poverty by 21.5%, while Gujarat achieved only 5.1% in the same period. Quite a few erstwhile poor states are doing better than Gujarat. They are brighter on other macroeconomic too by ‘walking the talk’ on the inclusion factor. The visible collateral benefit that is cushioning citizens from the stress in the economy is due to double-digit food inflation and the ill effects of an economic slowdown.

Odisha is performing pretty well though opponents keep screaming ‘foul’ just to survive in public memory. The innovations in public service delivery introduced by the Naveen administration have been exemplary. Odisha is a rare state with least leakage in the hitherto notorious public distribution system (PDS). Gujarat has degenerated from being exemplary in 1993-94 to a ‘highest leakage’ state by 2011-12.

While redistributive politics is a major factor in poverty reduction, excelling in making ‘pro-poor’ schemes is critically important. A strong ‘proxy’ as well as ‘determinant’ of poverty, particularly in rural regions, is the ‘wage of casual workers’.

A methodical analysis of wage data from multiple sources does indicate how and why poverty reduction in Odisha is impressively high. Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, wage rate growth in Odisha was 7.8% a year. Gujarat has been a laggard—wages grew by only 3.3% pushing it to the bottom among the so called forward states.

The latest data showing similar verdict is available from the Labour Bureau. Between 2007-08 and 2012-13, the national farm wages of male workers grew at an average of 6.3% per annum at real terms. The same in Odisha grew at 8.7% a year, while in Bihar the figure was 8.4%.

Shockingly, it increased by only 3.3% in Gujarat—the second lowest in the country. In 2000-01, agricultural wages in Gujarat were 21% higher than that in Bihar. By 2012-13, farm wages in Bihar hit 11% higher than Gujarat. Odisha is even higher. The analysis of wage data is not just a good metric for the poverty reduction story, but also an important indicator of who gained from growth of output and productivity.

The growth rate of wages for casual workers in Odisha is twice higher than that of Gujarat. Odisha has also ensured benefits accrue to the poorest. In Gujarat, growth has bypassed the poor and the marginalized, most benefits going to the favoured few, namely the wealthy business class. But they flaunt extraordinary profits.

Previous NDA government headed by Vajpayee was a very humble and accommodating one. Vajpayee never tried to bring heat on opposition whatever be the issue. He conducted himself as a prime minister to all regions irrespective of their political or ideological entity. He never behaved like a loudmouth party spokesperson. Vajpayee did splendid work but unfortunately failed miserably in converting that into votes mainly because his flamboyant lieutenants displayed power and wealth to irk people and lose their basic trust. Modi blows his trumpet disproportionately louder than achievement made.

Naveen Patnaik was ushered in to lead the newly formed BJD in 1997 by some front-line Biju followers soon after the legendary statesman’s demise. The founders including Dilip Ray and Bijay Mahapatra had plans for putting up Naveen as the face and run the party from behind as masters. Dilip Ray is the biggest beneficiary of Bijubabu’s unconditional trust. Ray became minister in the state and at the centre only because of Biju Patnaik’s magnanimity.

In return, Dilip looked after him in Delhi as the former’s health was failing rapidly. Bijay was Bijubabu’s man Friday in Odisha. He was a bit spoilt and notorious. He imagined he was the principal successor of Biju Patnaik. Dilip had shown himself as the shadow of the colossal figure until the body was consigned to flames at Swargadwar. Prem was a mere ‘moving picture of the silent era’. Naveen was just not known.

As times rolled by, Naveen was keen that good things happen to the backward state. He was rabidly hateful of wicked, machinating political crooks. What the crooked BJD founders could never figure out was that Naveen would not dance to their tunes as puppet; he would function as a live, kicking political leader. What people must know today is that Pyari removed Bijay to settle personal scores; and the BJP bosses were keen that Dilip Ray was dropped for some personal blemish not known clearly.

Naveen is just not likely to suffer even once the anti-incumbency disgust of the masses. His popularity has witnessed steady ascending trend unlike that of trumpet-blowing Modi who has only enjoyed a set of electoral wins in a glaringly descending order. After the recent Gujarat debacle, though in power still, Modi camp roars have thinned down to whimpers.

BJP is also likely to vacate Rajasthan and Karnataka in 2019 and fail to dislodge Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. The saffron brigade can’t simply shake Naveen, let alone beat him in any battle. That’s a ground reality which even the bitterest Naveen critics admit. The Modi magic has gone only because of loud talk and flamboyant lifestyle.

Naveen has won hearts permanently by looking and doing simple. He does not even react to foul– tongued critics; never fumes or frets against known enemies. Local critics found him guilty of ‘Odia hate’. Lately, he has established everything that can make the great language flourish with dignity.

Some achievements witnessed across the seventeen Naveen years: In January, Odisha topped the national list in spreading oil to gas conservation awareness. February was recognised for sharpest decline in IMR. March bagged award for outstanding Urban governance. In April, Bhubaneswar was declared the only winner of Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Excellence Award.

May brought the Best Heritage Destination award. June got ‘Best performing state’ in Skill development. July was historic for 22nd Asian Athletic athletics championship after BJP-driven Jharkhand cried aloud, “can’t do it. Someone, Please help”. August brought Naveen the best administrator award from ‘Outlook’.

September too was not eventlessas the ‘top state Forest right act implementation’ recognition came rushing in. October is unforgettable because Odisha remained among the top three investment-attracting states of India. In November, Odisha was at the top spot in‘rural road construction’ with 42000 kilometers  laid out under the PMGSY. In December, Odisha was declared the champion in ‘exports growth’, apart from the magnificent World Hockey tournament in Bhubaneswar. Gujarat masters should take lessons on inclusive growth from Odisha counterparts.

Lastly, the people provoked by Modi to ‘see and sniff poverty’ only in Odisha, are heard cursing the blatant liar forhaving misguided themso brazenly.

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