Good ol days: Naveen Patnaik with LK Advani
Bhubaneswar, Dec. 30: Looking back, 2009 was a year of political surprises, scams and tragedies.
In March, chief minister and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik sprang a surprise by announcing that he had severed his partys 11-year-old tie with BJP and would fight the polls alone.
A stunned BJP withdrew its support to the Naveen government reducing it to a minority and forcing a floor test.
Though political observers and Opposition Congress and BJP anticipated Naveens defeat in the trust vote and the resultant imposition of Presidents rule in the state, that did not happen.
Naveen scraped through ironically with the help of Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party — a partner in Congress-led UPA government at the Centre — and the Left parties who had been bitter critics of his government till its fallout with BJP. Some BJP MLAs also cross voted in favour of a BJD government.
Alleging that Naveen had manipulated the law to win the trust vote, Opposition Congress and BJP knocked on the doors of the Raj Bhavan demanding a fresh trust vote or imposition of Presidents rule.
The governors subsequent visit to Delhi obviously fuelled speculations about the possibility of Presidents rule. But again nothing happened.
Naveen continued to rule, even as the dates for simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls were announced.
The BJP, harping on the issue of betrayal against friend-turned-foe Naveen, vowed to ensure his partys defeat at the hustings. Similarly, Congress was hopeful of coming back to power by taking advantage of the BJD-BJP split.
But Naveen scored a third straight victory with a brute majority on his own (his party won 103 seats in the 147-member Assembly).
Congress, on the other hand, had to be content with 27 seats in the Assembly. BJP failed to achieve double digits.
However, barely six months after assuming office for the third time, a multi-crore mining scam rocked Naveens government and threatened to soil his Mr Clean image. After visits to certain mining sites, Congress and BJP teams claimed to have evidence of illegal mining activities and demanded a CBI probe into the alleged scam. Finding his government on the defensive, Naveen ordered a probe by the state vigilance organisation.
Much to the embarrassment of the government, vigilance sleuths found illegal mining activities being carried out in forests and unallotted mining areas without forest clearance and mining lease in connivance with mining and forest officials.
An embarrassed Naveen suspended several senior mining and forest officials, including the director of mines, and closed down 128 mines that had violated statutory rules. The investigation by Indian Bureau of Mines also detected several irregularities.
As the government rejected the demand for CBI inquiry, several PILs were filed in the high court and later in Supreme Court questioning the neutrality of the vigilance probe and pressing for a CBI inquiry. Even the CBI counsel expressed its willingness to take up the investigation.
While the mining scam has been haunting Naveen, an alleged multi-crore poultry feed scam has generated fresh heat with Opposition Congress demanding a CBI probe and threatening to resort to agitation if the demand was not met.
The state also witnessed a string of farmer suicides that indicated that all was not well in the agriculture sector.
Even on Monday, a farmer in Sundargarh district committed suicide by consuming poison. While the Opposition and peasant organisations have been blaming the government for the tragedies, alleging that the farmers were being forced to desperation due to crop loss and loan burden, the government has been denying that crop failure is the only reason behind the suicides. State agriculture minister Damodar Rout cited reasons like family feud.
The suicides continue to worry Naveen as agriculture provides livelihood to around 80 per cent of the states population and form a major vote bank of the BJD.