On Wednesday, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik held the ‘Swabhiman Samabesh’ rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi and addressed around 30,000 Biju Janata Dal (BJD) cadres.
The mega rally comes close on the heels of Patnaik’s announcement that he is interested in forming a third or ‘federal’ front with other regional/state parties in mind, to support such a coalition. Party leaders have a rationale in mind to support this new front but abstained from commenting if Patnaik was projecting himself as a leader of such a front.
At the rally, Patnaik addressed the BJD cadres reiterating his demand to the Central government for special category status for Odisha “as a constitutional right.” Despite several of his critics commenting on his lack of understanding of the Odia language, Patnaik made his speech in his mother tongue.
Patnaik also went to meet President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan with a delegation of 30 of his party’s MLAs and MPs. They presented a memorandum of BJD’s demand for the special status category for Odisha.
“I have signatures of 1.25 crore people of Odisha, which touches nearly every household in the state,” said Patnaik. Odisha has a population of 4.2 crore as per the provisional figures of the 2011 census.
Recently, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the planning commission, rejected Patnaik’s request for the special status category. This brought Patnaik to New Delhi with the demand. It is not known if he has approached the prime minister, who is the chairman of the planning commission.
In his speech, Patnaik said, “Odisha generated around Rs 15,000 crore for the Indian Railways last year, but the demand for new railway lines has been denied to us. The Centre has repeatedly denied our demand for reviewing the increase of the state’s share in royalty for minerals mined in Odisha.”
The Odisha CM stressed that the demand for special category status was a constitutional right and not a dole. He said that the Congress was following a policy of political considerations in giving special category status to certain states while ignoring the just demands of other deprived states.
Patnaik also stressed that there were more than a crore people of tribal origin in his state who live in remote areas. With funds under the special category status, he would be able to wipe out poverty in 10 years, he said.
As much as the demand for a special category status for Odisha, the BJD also sent out a clear message that it was maintaining distance from the two main national parties.
While the Congress is facing flak for a large number of scams in its nine-year-old reign, the BJP has recently faced criticism for the Modi-Advani tussle that led to a crisis in the state, which has left a question mark on the JD-U’s continuing in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
Picking on this opportunity, BJD has been airing its views on joining a possible federal front to lead the country and, as the name suggests, the focus is to create a leadership of the country bringing together leaders of several states.
Patnaik had earlier hinted at a tie-up with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress.
In an interview with TEHELKA, BJD Lok Sabha MP for Kendrapada, Baijayant Jay Panda said, “Though we might have empathy or sympathy with a lot of other states, the issue of neglect from the Centre and political discrimination leads to having some common threads of discussion. But this doesn’t automatically lead to a third front. We have no objections if a third front develops and it is very early to speculate on this.”
However, Panda said that forming the third front was not a tough task considering that “Naveen babu is close to Jayalalithaa, Nitish and Mamata.” But in the past, Patnaik has denied wanting to assume leadership of a third front saying that he wants to lead the people of Odisha.
Panda emphasised that the third front was not a soft alternative for India despite past track records. “For almost a quarter of a century, every government in Delhi has been a coalition government and during this period, regional parties have become stronger. I don’t agree that during any independent, non-national party-led government, things have been worse. Look at the performance of this government for the past several years and tell me how it was any worse than any third front government in the late 80s and 90s,” he said.
“Also, if you look at the states where these parties operate, such as Odisha, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, they are outperforming other states in India. We are, with our own effort, getting ahead a lot. But we want to shed the shackles that the Centre has imposed on us in terms of revenue sharing,” said Panda, arguing the case for regional parties leading at the Centre.
“The late Biju babu (Biju Patnaik) demanded fiscal independence for Odisha. We have our mineral resources. If we were not handicapped by the Central government, we would have progressed much faster. That is already happening due to the development of regional politics,” he said.
Another long-standing demand of the mineral-rich states has been to increase the states’ royalties. The rate of royalties has not been revised despite the demand.
“For example, in the mineral sector, the Central government sets the royalties, which are set abysmally low because of the lobbying of certain vested interests in the mining sector. As a result, the state barely gets any revenue and the people who are displaced from those areas neither get any benefits nor do they get the adequate number of jobs if investments were to happen,” Panda added.
“The special category status was devised with certain norms specifically to compensate states which meet these criteria and we meet exactly those criteria as I pointed out during the rally. You can’t say “Heads I win, tails you lose”, that is the attitude the Centre has towards us, which we won’t tolerate any longer,” Panda said.