|BJD leaders at a rally on Exhibition Ground in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.
Picture of Ashwinee Pati
Bhubaneswar, March 5: Spurred by the announcement of polls, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik today donned the battle gear by launching precision attacks on both Congress and the BJP while seeking to make an emotional connect with the electorate at three mega rallies organised at carefully chosen venues.
With Odia pride as his leitmotif, Naveen lashed out at top BJP and Congress leaders, including prime ministerial aspirants, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, for making a beeline for Uttarakhand when the Himalayan state was hit by floods but leaving Odisha to its fate in the wake of cyclone Phailin.
“Everyone right from the Prime Minister to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi rushed there. But they had no time for us when we were reeling from Phailin and the floods that followed. Are we not the citizens of this country?” Naveen asked in chaste Odia egged on by the capacity crowd at the BJD’s youth rally here.
Without naming Modi, he took a dig at the Gujarat strongman for invoking Lord Jagannath and the legend of Biju Patnaik during his rally in Bhubaneswar last month. “Where were the leaders seeking votes of the Odias in the name of Lord Jagannath and Biju babu when the state was crying out for help? They have hurt the sentiments of our people and this will cost them dear,” he said.
While the rallies in Bhubaneswar and Berhampur representing the coastal and south Odisha saw him speak in Odia, he began his address at Sambalpur, the intellectual and cultural capital of west Odisha, in the local tongue recalling his father’s love for it. “Sambalpuiri is a sweet language. Biju babu was fond of it. Our government has sent a proposal to the Centre for including the Sambalpuri language in the 8th schedule,” he said to the loud applause of the crowd.
But Odia pride and Centre’s continued apathy towards the state were the recurring theme of his speeches at these rallies which have set the tone for the elections. Accusing the UPA of indulging in politics by discriminating between states, Naveen questioned Manmohan Singh government’s move to confer the special category state tag on the yet-to-be-born Seemandhra while ignoring Odisha’s demand for the same. “We have been demanding special status for a long time but each time we are denied on the pretext of not meeting criteria like international border and so on. But will the central government kindly tell us how Seemandhra became eligible for this overnight and with which country does it share its borders?” asked Naveen.
The chief minister also raised the issue of non-revision of mineral royalty which had cost the state dear in terms of revenue.
“We are losing Rs 1800 crore annually because of this. The Centre, it seems, is more interested in protecting the interests of a handful of mine owners than the four crore people of the state,” he said.
Casting into an emotional spiral what was virtually the launch of his party’s election campaign in the state, Naveen invoked Lord Jagannath and Odia greats like Gopabandhu Das, Madhu babu and his own father, Biju Patnaik. “They fought for the pride of Odia race. The Lord even came out of his fabled abode to join the Odia army,” he said in an apparent reference to the famous Kanchi campaign of Puri King Purushottam Deb.
As if that was not enough, Naveen pulled on the heart strings of his audience a la Indira Gandhi whose last speech in Odisha still gives people goosebumps. “Whether I be in power or not and whether anyone be with me or not, I will work for the development of Odisha and fight for the pride of its people till my last breath,” said the leader, his words recalling the sentiments expressed by India’s first woman Prime Minister in Bhubaneswar a day before her death.