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BJD in a bind on farm laws

Due to party's growing closeness with the BJP, it is not in a position to directly oppose the Centre on the farmers’ issue
Naveen Patnaik

Subhashish Mohanty   |   Bhubaneswar   |   Published 15.12.20, 02:22 AM

The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, which follows an avowed policy of maintaining equidistance from the Congress and the BJP, is being pushed into a corner on the issue of farmers’ agitation. 

Due to the BJD’s growing closeness with the BJP, the party led by chief minister Naveen Patnaik is not in a position to directly oppose the Centre on the farmers’ issue, according to farmer leaders.

Though the BJD claims to be extending moral support to the farmers’ cause, it has so far refrained from hitting the streets along with them.

Even though the BJD had demanded in Parliament in September that the farm bills be sent to the Select Committee, it preferred not to hit the streets during the Bharat Bandh on December 8. Nor did it come out openly on Monday and joined the farmers during the 9-hour strike call at all the district headquarters.

Naba Nirman Krushak Sangathan president Akshay Kumar said: “It (BJD) has so far done only lip service to our cause by sending a letter to the Centre urging it to implement the M.S. Swaminathan Committee’s report on the MSP. It’s nothing new. Though the Assembly had unanimously adopted a resolution twice, in 2017 and 2018, for enhancing the MSP as per the committee’s recommendation, it hardly took up the issue with the Centre and the Prime Minister. The farm laws should be repealed.” 

He said the BJD’s role on the farmers’ issue was confined to press statements and sending letters to the Centre.

Damburu Soren, a 50-year-old tribal labourer told The Telegraph: “Today, I joined the strike called by the farmers. All the political parties except the BJD and the BJP supported us and joined the movement near the additional district magistrate’s office. The BJD and the BJP did not turn up to show their solidarity. In fact, the BJD is tacitly supporting the BJP but is not in a position to express it openly.”

Soren came to the capital city 30 years ago from the mineral-rich belt of Keonjhar in search of work.

BJD spokesperson, senior MLA and former finance minister Sashi Bhusan Behera said: “We are always with the farmers. We have extended our moral support to the farmers. In order to ensure improvement in the livelihood of the farmers, the state government has taken up a number of welfare schemes. We are one of the first states to introduce an exclusive agriculture budget. We have passed a unanimous resolution in the Assembly for the implementation of the Swaminathan committee’s report on recommendation on implementation of the MSP and urged the Centre to implement it.”

On the issue of not joining the agitation, Behera said: “We are supporting the farmers’ cause in our own way. No one can compel us to join the agitation. We do have our own action plan.”

“The state government has to move cautiously. Why should we earn the wrath of the Centre? Because of our good equation with the Centre, we have so far received a good amount of assistance either be it help during the time of Cyclone Amphan or during the Covid situation. The state cannot take that risk,” said another senior BJD leader.

State convener of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, Suresh Panigrahi, said, “The BJD may be giving moral support to the farmers. But it should announce that Odisha will not implement the farm laws. They should demand repeal of the laws.”

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