Bhubaneswar, Aug. 13: A slew of sops that the Naveen Patnaik government dressed up as welfare measures might help it sail through the municipal elections widely perceived as the dress rehearsal for the 2014 Assembly polls.
During the past eight months, the government has showered largesse on almost every section of the population in a please-all act that has raised the hackles of the Opposition, which described it as a thinly veiled attempt at buying votes.
While the BJD is confident of being successful in garnering votes in this way, the Opposition says the slew of sops are a “sign of nerves”.
The Naveen “sop opera” began in January this year with the government further subsidising the public distribution system rice. The state government made rice available to the people at Re 1 instead of Rs 2 earlier. This sets the exchequer back by Rs 1,300 crore annually. The government went ahead with the scheme despite criticism from the Congress, the main Opposition party, which alleged that the beneficiaries were not being given their full quota of rice allocated by the Centre.
While two lakh more beneficiaries were included under the Madhu Babu Pension scheme with the government bearing an additional financial burden of Rs 100 crore, Rs 105 crore was set aside for providing free blankets and umbrellas to the poor. Youth clubs across the state were promised financial assistance at the cost of Rs 10 crore while labourers were given free shoes, slippers, gloves and other accessories.
The chief minister gave away free laptops to 15,000 students, mobile phones to farmers and pre-paid SIM cards to one lakh fishermen. Women self-help groups were also doled out funds. Last year, too, the government had displayed similar generosity by loosening its purse strings for a slew of schemes, including free bicycles for Class X girls and scheduled caste and scheduled tribe boys. “We have introduced a number of welfare measures and are confident of sailing through the polls,” said panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das. On the other hand, Congress and BJP leaders said what was happening was a sign of nerves in the ruling party.
“They have announced all these sops keeping the urban elections in mind. However, people will not be swayed by them and will display their anger with their votes,” said Pradesh Congress Committee president Jaydev Jena.
BJD banks on sops
State BJP spokesperson Suresh Pujari said: “Now they have realised that they have started losing their hold on the people. They are scared and trying to lure people this way.”
“It is accepted that the Naveen Patnaik government is practising fraud on the people of Odisha. He is in the habit of indulging in such political gimmicks before elections. One can cheat some people for sometime but not all the people for all the time,” said Congress stalwart Narasingha Mishra.
BJD leaders, however, dismissed these allegations, saying that the Opposition was trying to make a mountain of a molehill because it was scared of Naveen’s popularity. “They know that the chief minister has a clean image. He has been punishing the corrupt and also working for the welfare of the poor. The cheap rice scheme has been a success despite criticism,” said a senior BJD leader.