Bhubaneswar, Aug. 21: The state BJP is trying hard not only to grab the political space being gradually vacated by the Congress, the main Opposition, but also to deny the BJD the opportunity of attacking the Centre as it used to do when the UPA was in power.
The shift in the party’s strategy has become obvious with BJP leaders taking on the state government on a number of volatile issues, including mining and fund collection scams and allotment of houses and plots to the high and the mighty under the discretionary quota. On these issues, the party has been much more aggressive than the Congress, which, given its internal squabbles, has not been able to do justice to its tag of the main Opposition party.
Significantly, central ministers of the BJP visiting the state have been lending a helping hand to the state unit by launching broadsides against the Naveen Patnaik government. During the UPA regime, the then chemical and fertilisers minister, Srikant Jena, was the only Congress leader of stature firing salvos at Naveen but NDA leaders appear to have made it a habit.
Union forest and environment minister Prakash Javadekar, who came to Odisha in the first week of July, was one of the first leaders to take potshot at Naveen in the context of the controversy over Shankaracharya’s refusal to perform his rath yatra rituals following a tiff with the administration.
Javadekar hit out at the state government for interfering in religious matters leaving Naveen fuming. There were more attacks on the chief minister on the issue by two other Union ministers — Jual Oram and Dharemendra Pradhan, both hailing from Odisha.
Oram also attacked the state government for its allegedly soft attitude towards the Posco project and mocked Naveen for putting up a token fight on the Polavaram issue.
“The BJP may have just 10 MLAs in the Assembly but it is already behaving like the main Opposition party. The party has put its dismal performance in the state Assembly and Lok Sabha elections behind and working hard not only on retrieving the lost ground,” said a senior leader pointing out that this was part of BJP’s larger gameplan of making regional outfits such as BJD irrelevant to create a two-party system, which it can dominate.
Sources said that the new BJP president, Amit Shah, having made it clear that the focus was now firmly on states such as Odisha, Bengal and Assam, where the party did not fare well in the last elections, the state leaders have their task cut out. They have to focus on reviving their fortunes by emerging as the main opposition while keeping the BJD at bay by depriving it of any opportunity to attack the Modi-led NDA.
Last week, senior BJP leaders from the state met Union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari and culture and tourism minister Sripad Naik urging them to lend a helping hand to Odisha to ensure the smooth conduct of the Nabakalebar festival in Puri next year.
This was an issue agitating the ruling BJD for past sometime but the BJP cleverly turned the focus on itself. It earned a few more brownie points when Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of those killed in the recent floods in the state.
State BJP president K.V. Singh Deo said: “We will continue to work hard to project state’s problem at the national level and see that Odisha gets its due. The state did not get justice during the UPA regime but we are committed to right the wrongs of the past.”
Senior party leader Bijoy Mohapatra said there was a determined effort to strengthen the BJP in the state and to send out a message that the party was completely united as far as Odisha’s interest was concerned.
That the party’s focus is on Odisha is also evident from the fact that two leaders from the state have been accommodated in the Modi cabinet despite party having won just one Lok Sabha seat in the state. The new team announced by Shah also has a spokesperson from the state.
Senior BJP leader Ashok Sahu said: “We have been given the opportunity and we should work extra hard to make the best possible use of it. That is going to be the real test for us.”