Thursday, May 28, 2009

Election results mirror unequal growth pattern within Orissa

The Pioneer, May 29, 2009

Digambara Patra

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) won overwhelmingly in the recently-held simultaneous Assembly and parliamentary elections in Orissa. However, it failed in the backward western and southern regions except Ganjam due to unequal growth within the State in the past decade.

It is normal that a small fraction of local population in an affected locality opposing industrial activities would vote against the ruling party, but percentage of such votes rarely played any role, whether it was Lanjigarh, Jharsuguda, Paradip, Puri or Kalinga Nagar. Supporting the belief further the BJD also got poor response in southern and western regions such as Bargarh, Nabarangpur, etc where there was no industrial activity.

Anti-industry protest was not an election issue by any major political party such as the BJP or the Congress in Orissa unlike the case of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. For example, in Kalahandi anti-Vedanta protest rarely got any support outside Lanjigarh block, that too among the affected people and few groups in Bhawanipatna who had professional and political reasons. Most of the general public outside Lanjigarh block was never excited to oppose Vedanta. Vedanta being the only the major industry in the district, a large number of intellectuals in the district outside Lanjigarh region was indeed in support of the project. Thus, a theory put earlier based on anti-industrial sentiment was illogical.

Another theory argues that election results also rule out the possibility of Rs 2-a-kg rice scheme had any big role. Was 25 kg of rice every month at Rs 2 the reason in this election the BJD would have done wonders in southern and western regions, where higher percentage of voters is benefited from the scheme? The BJD did not receive any overwhelming response in backward and poverty zones of western and southern parts, including the KBK region, unlike the coastal region. This idea is also supported by a few others.

In fact, if the fate of first-phase elections comprising the western and a large part of southern region (32 seats out of 70, 46 per cent won by the BJD) would have been repeated in the second phase polls, the BJD would not have got a majority or might have lost this election.

Many analysts fail to explain why people voted overwhelmingly (71 seats out of 77, 93 per cent won by the BJD and alliance) to the BJD and alliance in the second phase election. BJD MP Baijayant (Jay) Panda reasoned the BJD’s overwhelming success is solely due to Naveen Patnaik and his Government’s developmental initiatives and success. Most of the people may buy this argument; however, in that case looking at the voting trend in the State, Panda fails to explain why the BJD failed in western and southern parts compared to rest of the State.

Scrutinising all the points, one thing is clear: The growth in Orissa is either not equal or not properly reaching the western and southern parts, except Ganjam district. Ganjam can also be classified as part of the coastal region rather than southern as per geography where the BJD also won overwhelmingly. If overall development is an indication in this election, the Congress would not have won in a huge margin for MP seat and overwhelmingly got four MLA seats in Kalahandi, an anti-Congress bastion, unlike any other district. Kalahandi had voted the BJD-BJP combine in the last two elections overwhelmingly. Kalahandi was the only Parliamentary constituency in the whole southern and western Orissa where the alliance had won all the MLA and MP seats including an Independent MLA in Nuapada, a rival BJD candidate who retuned to the BJD later on.

Out of the 15 parliamentary elections the country has gone through since Independence, the Congress has won only four times in Kalahandi; first time when the Congress wave was sweeping all over the nation under Indira Gandhi’s leadership after the fall of the Janata Party Government; second time when Indira Gandhi was killed and the nation voted sympathetically and overwhelmingly for Rajiv Gandhi; third time when Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991 people voted the Congress again sympathetically all over the nation; and this is the fourth time the party has won the Kalahandi parliamentary seat, of course with a huge margin.

When one compares the situation of main roads, bridges and educational institutions where the State Government has more role to play, unlike the case of railway, in Kalahandi, Nuapada, Nabarangpur, Bargarh, etc, these are similar as before. The conditions of main roads are as they used to be decades ago, only exceptions being a few village roads built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. A bridge promised by the BJD Government since 2000 near Junagarh has not materialised yet after two elections. In contrast, the Bhubaneswar region is developing like never before.

In today’s India, even rural people can see what is going around. Visiting Bhubaneswar these days gives a pleasant feeling with wide roads whereas travelling from Balangir to Nabarangpur via Bhawanipatna on NH 201 gives a different impression. People from Nuapada district or Padampur almost spend the whole day to reach Jaipatna in Kalahandi district whereas Berhampur to Bhubaneswar or Sambalpur to Bhubaneswar can hardly require a few hours.

The unequal growth is clearly visible at the ground level and could be due to either unequal distribution or corruption. In both cases, it is the role of the State Government to distribute internally within the State and implement it properly at the ground level.

Unfortunately, the Chief Minister visits Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput and Kandhamal (KBKK) and other backward western Orissa regions only during election time or unless there is serious trouble in the region like Maoists or floods which rarely occurs in five years. In the last five years he visited Kalahandi four times, out of which three times just before this election; one time for laying foundation stones and other two times for election campaigning to two different regions within the district; and first time was an aerial survey during a flood in the Aatigaon region.

Whereas one can find him visiting Ganjam and some other coastal pockets at least once, if not so often, in a year for some kind of inauguration, this or that, in addition to his visits during trouble hours. Such visit makes a difference in the ground level, as it puts officials in alert and helps to monitor the progress properly in an interval when the CM is supposed to be good, proactive and honest as people in the State thought.

This is the time a serious rethinking is needed on the basis of regional growth in the western and southern parts of the State if the BJD won this election only due to the development and nothing else, and the BJD dreams for a developed and peaceful Orissa for tomorrow, in the CM’s own language. Otherwise, it will encourage regionalism and divide people internally within the State.

-- The writer, a non-resident Oriya, is Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

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