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Orissa campaign hits painted wall

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By SAMANWAYA RAUTRAY in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 11.04.09

Bhubaneswar, April 10: Small-time artists have unwittingly painted Orissa’s mighty politicians into a corner.

Deep into election season, not even Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal nor the chief minister himself can find space in a flattering poster on the city’s walls.

Orissa will have Assembly and Lok Sabha polls on April 16 and 23.

Walls in the state capital — modelled on Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh — are awash with vignettes of Orissa’s past and present as part of a two-year-old spruce-up project that has pushed politicians of all hues to obscure corners.

Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation commissioner Aparajita Sarangi, credited with changing the landscape through the colourful, traditional Orissa paintings, said civic squads were on the prowl for those defacing walls.

The last of such swoops, she said, had been conducted early in the morning on the road linking the state’s only international airport to the famed Lingaraj temple.

Even private walls are unavailable for poll campaigns, taken up as they are by the civic body’s paintings, a project funded by public donations from companies as well as other sources.

“If the property owners say no (to civic body paintings), they must put up ‘stick no bills’ stickers. We don’t want posters and we won’t have posters,” Sarangi said.

Poll graffiti adorned a few unwashed, unpainted stretches, but even those spots might not be a safe zone, political parties and workers have learnt.

After years of having a free run of the walls, some of them have had to cough up fines at the rate of Rs 50 per square foot to the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation for defacing public property. That’s not all. They also got the stick from the Election Commission.

Caught between the civic body and the commission, politicians have ceded wall space like never before, a quick scan of the city revealed.

Political leaders beam at voters only as towering hoardings on some street corners. Naveen has a flattering cutout at one square, with a small portrait of his father Biju Patnaik smiling benignly at him from above. The Congress has Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, K.P. Singh Deo and Rahul Gandhi bunched together. But where’s the BJP?

Even the forsaken corners they have made their own will be gone. These are the swathes that the artists, some 100 of them, are yet to paint as part of the corporation scheme to jazz up the city, a la Jaipur.

The state’s chief electoral officer, Alka Panda, who otherwise would have had to enforce the anti-defacement rule single-handedly, couldn’t be happier. With half of the walls soaked in the Pattachitra style paintings, her job is half done.

But she isn’t letting her guard down. “We have been implementing the Election Commission’s instructions that the walls have to be kept graffiti and poster-free,” Panda said.