Supporters greet Naveen Patnaik at the BJD office in Bhubaneswar. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhubaneswar, May 18: Singlehood is not the only thing common to Naveen Patnaik, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee. With a streak of defiance, they have emerged as formidable regional satraps who successfully withstood the Modi wave and carved out their own spectacular victories.
Their refusal to follow the rest of the country had been evident throughout the last five years of the UPA regime when they were seen making common cause on a number of sensitive issues, including Centre’s bid to impart sweeping powers to the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and bring FDI into the retail sector. They put their foot down forcing the UPA to revise its stand.
Naveen, who is keeping his options open vis-à-vis the National Democratic Alliance, has, though, always been closer to Jayalalithaa and even followed her strategy of wooing the electorate through populist schemes. If “Amma” endeared herself to the people of Tamil Nadu with free rice through the public distribution system, Naveen came up with a “me-too” scheme providing rice to people at Re 1 a kg at a cost of around Rs 1,100 crore to the state exchequer.
He also followed in the footsteps of “Puratchi Thalaivi” (revolutionary leader) in launching schemes for students, including distribution of free laptops. As many as 15,000 meritorious students who passed Class XII examinations were given laptops while free bicycles were provided to girls and scheduled cast and scheduled boys in schools across the state.
Taking a leaf out of Jayalalithaa’s populist book, Naveen distributed sops left and right, his largesse benefiting almost all sections of the society. Apart from old age pensions and financial assistance to self-help groups and youth clubs, his government also distributed free blankets to 36 lakh poor and free umbrellas to three lakh pensioners. Working classes, especially labourers engaged at construction sites, were wooed with free shoes, helmets and financial assistance for their daughters’ marriage.
If the Mamata scheme took care of pregnant mothers, the government also made sure that no poor family was deprived of the right to perform the last rites of its dead for want of money. Naveen’s was a “cradle to the grave” kind of welfare regime that clicked with the people who have voted it to power for the fourth time with a majority that has left poll pundits baffled.
“From Mamata to Harishchandra scheme for the poor, the welfare measures launched by Naveen Patnaik struck a chord with the people who overwhelmingly voted in his favour. Modi was just not a factor in Odisha,” said BJD general secretary Narendra Swain.
Youth BJD leader Bijay Nayak echoed him. “I don’t want to draw a comparison between Naveen babu and Jayalalithaa but there is no denying the popularity of our chief minister who had a scheme for each segment of the society. Modi could not have made a dent in the BJD armour which had no chinks for him to exploit,” asserted Nayak.
The moves of Naveen and Jayalalithaa, who are yet to open their cards vis-à-vis the NDA, would be watched closely in the coming days. While Jayalalitha aides had indicated on the eve of announcement of results that AIADMK would like to have close ties with Modi in the event of him becoming Prime Minister, Naveen Patnaik snubbed his party colleagues when some of them spoke on similar lines.
Refusing to attach any importance to such statements, the chief minister made it clear that his party was yet to take a call on the issue and till then its policy of equal distance from Congress and the BJP would continue.
On Modi, it seems, Naveen may tread his own path which may be entirely different from the one Jayalaithaa is likely to take.
“I won’t be surprised. On certain issues, he has his own mind and when he takes a decision, he sticks to it,” said former bureaucrat Aparti Mallick.