Ever heard of “question fixing?” The opposition Congress coined the term in the state Assembly last Monday following a fracas over a question that Biju Janata Dal legislator Khageswar Behera was supposed to ask but did not.
It was the first question listed for the day and the person supposed to reply to the question was none other than chief minister Naveen Patnaik. However, the speaker decided to skip it citing Behera’s absence in the House.
This triggered an uproar from the Congress benches with party MLAs rushing into the well protesting against what they described as question fixing. They alleged that Behera’s absence was deliberate and meant to save Naveen from facing embarrassing queries on the law and order situation.
The BJD member, however, had a simple explanation for his absence. He said he had gone out to answer the nature’s call.
The motley gathering of politicians, entrepreneurs and NGO activists at the public hearing on mining scam in Bhubaneswar tried the patience of Justice M.B. Shah who heads the commission inquiring into the muddle.
Despite his repeated warnings, politicians cutting across party lines made rambling speeches, at least one of them doing so in chaste Odia, which is Greek to the retired Supreme Court judge.
Samajwadi party leader Rabi Behera took the cake as he sought to link the mining scandal to the alleged land scam in the development authorities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.
Even as Behera continued to insist that there was a distinct connection between the two scams, neither Justice Shah nor anyone else present appeared to have any clue about what he was saying.
A microphone malfunction during the Shah Commission’s public hearing in the capital ensured that state Congress president Niranjan Patnaik had a virtual one-on-one with Justice M.B. Shah.
Though neither of the two appeared to have any problems interacting without the aid of the microphones, mediapersons covering the event looked visibly annoyed.
Unable to make out what was going on in the middle of the hall where Patnaik sat with the hoary haired judge, they shouted in protest demanding immediate rectification of the microphone problem.
Justice Shah was, however, unmoved by their pleas.
“It’s meant for us, not for the press,” he retorted and carried on with the proceedings. Fortunately for the media, the problem was set right soon after.
There is hardly an issue on which former agriculture minister Damodar Rout and Jagatsinghpur MLA Bishnu Das, arch political enemies, agree.
Hence, it was surprising to find both of them spewing venom against Bapi Sarkhel, a little-known businessman supposedly involved in the construction of the controversial Paradip-Dhinkia coastal road which was behind the recent violence in the Posco project area.
Both had unkind words for Sarkhel, a fortune hunter from western Odisha trying to make his pile in the conflict zone near Kujang where big-ticket projects such as Posco steel plant and an oil refinery are coming up.
The area being their home turf, the two cannot tolerate Sarkhel there.
It is quite another matter that their own turf war has turned the area into a political cauldron.
The whisper in the power corridors is that with the shifting of high profile bureaucrat Priyabrata Patnaik from the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Idco), Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra has got his own back on chief secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik.
A 1976 batch IAS officer, Priyabrata was made the chairman-cum-managing director of Idco last year apparently at the behest of the chief secretary though Mohapatra was against the appointment.
The posting, which marked the end of the bureaucratic limbo into which Priyabrata had gone after being made officer without duty in April, 2008, is said to have further embittered the relations between the chief secretary and Mohapatra, a bureaucrat-turned-politician. Now the scores are even again.
CM learns Odia
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik seems to be working hard on his Odia.
Replying to an adjournment motion on the Posco fracas the other day in the Assembly, he spoke a few sentences extempore in the language as he sought to calm down the Congress members who staged a walk out.
“Manyabar sadasyamane tike shant hunatu, kahinki raguchhanti. Mun bujjhi paru nahin pradhanmantri jetebele ehi project karibaku chahuchhanti, rajya Congress netamane kahinki raguchhanti (honourable members, please calm down, why are you getting upset? I fail to understand when the Prime Minister himself wants this project, why the state Congress leaders are losing their calm.) Then turning to his own party members, he said with almost a shy smile: “Mun tike tike Odia sikhuchhi, jadi kicchi bhul kahibi khyama karibe (I am trying to learn Odia, kindly forgive me if I say something wrong.)