Odisha: Who succeeds Patnaik? Also, Lord Jagannath to the fore

BJD's move to position itself as the flagbearer of ‘Odiya pride’ and the ‘custodian’ of Lord Jagannath is being widely seen as an effort to take on the BJP

The rath yatra in Puri with the Jagannath temple in the backdrop (photo: Wikipedia)
The rath yatra in Puri with the Jagannath temple in the backdrop (photo: Wikipedia)
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Sujata Anandan

Jai Jagannath!

While Ayodhya is hogging the limelight with the consecration of the Ram Temple slated for 22 January, the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the state government is playing its own Hindutva card. The dedication of the Jagannath Temple corridor project has been scheduled on 17 January, with invites going out to trustees of 187 major temples across the country, including Vaishno Devi, Kamakhya Temple and Shirdi Sai Temple, as well as VIPs, corporate czars and celebrities.

The move to position itself as the flagbearer of ‘Odiya pride’ and the ‘custodian’ of Lord Jagannath is being widely seen as an effort to take on the BJP, which is making a concerted effort to wrest power in the state. The BJD had won 112 out of the 147 assembly seats in 2019 but only 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, with the BJP improving its tally to eight.

The Shree Mandira Parikrama Project (SMPP) involves the development of the periphery of the Jagannath temple in Puri at a cost of Rs 943 crore. The project is designed to transform the temple into a modern centre for 15,000 pilgrims at a time, with queue management, baggage screening, cloakrooms, drinking water, toilets, facilities for washing hands/ feet, information-cum-donation kiosks, shelter pavilions for shade and rest, multi-level car parking, a dedicated shuttle-cum-emergency lane for accommodating police, fire and emergency vehicles, an integrated command-and-control centre, and souvenir shops.

Drawing inspiration from the Ram Janmabhoomi trust’s mobilisation effort, the Odisha government is planning to collect betel nuts and fistfuls of rice from each household starting 5 January 2024. The emphasis will be on village panchayats. People will be mobilised from each block and taken to Puri at the state’s expense. LED screens will be set up in all panchayats and blocks to enable people to watch the live telecast of the inauguration. Media reports indicate that the initial budget of Rs 4,000 crore has now been increased to Rs 4,214 crore.

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V.K. Pandian interacts with special students at an event (photo: @PandianOdisha/X)
V.K. Pandian interacts with special students at an event (photo: @PandianOdisha/X)

Pandian vs Pradhan

"What has Dharmendra Pradhan, Angul’s son of the soil, done for the district?” asked V.K. Pandian at a public meeting on the Union minister’s home turf. Pradhan is the BJP’s face in Odisha who fancies himself as a probable chief minister if the party wins. Pandian, an IAS officer (batch of 2000), quit his job in October 2023 and joined the BJD a month later. He now enjoys the status of a cabinet minister, holding the post of chairman of Nabin Odisha (a government welfare scheme) and 5T (a transformational initiative).

A close confidante of chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Pandian went on to say, “When Biju Patnaik was the Union minister, he brought the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd unit to Sunabeda and founded Paradip port. When Naveen Patnaik was Union minister, he initiated the proposal for setting up the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd refinery at Paradip. Union ministers Bishweswar Tudu and Jual Oram established the Ekalavya schools, while three central schools were established in Ganjam when Chandrasekhar Sahu was a Union minister of state.”

He also recalled how Union minister K.P. Singh Deo initiated steps to set up a branch of the IIMC at Dhenkanal. What is Pradhan’s contribution to the area? “Nearly 100 people die in accidents on the national highway connecting Angul, Sambalpur and Cuttack. Why has the repair of the national highway connecting Sambalpur, Angul, and Cuttack not been taken up?” asked Pandian. “It is Pradhan who always says he is pained to see the people of the area migrating in search of jobs. Despite being the minister of skill development, why did he not take the initiative to set up a single centre for upgrading skills in the region covering Angul, Deogarh and Sambalpur districts?”

The former bureaucrat appeared to be relishing his new role as politician with his sharp attacks on Pradhan, prompting observers to comment that Pandian too could be positioning himself as Patnaik’s successor.

The BJP quickly came out in support of Pradhan, though, and claimed that five central schools were functioning in the district, thanks to Pradhan. It also credited him for "huge investment in the petroleum sector in the state’", the Talcher medical college and thermal power station, as well as a unit of the Fertiliser Corporation of India. It seems the war of words is just hotting up between the two NDA allies.

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Sarat Pattanayak
Sarat Pattanayak

Congress on the move

The Congress is getting off to an early start deciding on their Lok Sabha candidates in Odisha. Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sarat Pattanayak and newly appointed state-in-charge Ajoy Kumar went into a huddle at the Congress’s 139th foundation day celebrations in Nagpur on 28 December to discuss the political situation in the state and examine the party’s prospects in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Pattanayak hinted that some senior leaders might also be inducted into the party ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s east-to-west Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which will pass through Odisha.

The two will meet in Bhubaneswar early next month to iron out the differences in the expectations and perspectives of the INDIA bloc members and finetune seat-sharing arrangements with them. Pattanayak indicated that a committee of senior Congress leaders will be set up to hold these discussions with the Left parties, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Trinamool Congress, who are eyeing Odisha for a slice of the pie this time round.

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A taste of their own medicine

Ten Bajrang Dal activists got a taste of their own medicine in Balasore district when they tried to stop a truck transporting cattle to an abattoir in West Bengal for slaughter. While Odisha does not permit the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks, the cattle certified fit for slaughter can be transported to West Bengal, where beef and buff are both allowed. The ban has played havoc with the rural economy though, and in the absence of the culling of cattle, abandoned animals continue to stray into fields and destroy crops.

Despite this, when a vigilante group of Bajrang Dal workers tried to stop three trucks on NH60 that were transporting an estimated 100 heads of cattle, local villagers emerged from behind trees with sticks and stones to take them on. The villagers had apparently nothing to do with the cattle in question — which were brought from far off villages — but they possibly sympathised with the plight of the transporters. The villagers beat up the vigilantes, three of whom had to be hospitalised.

None of the attackers were identified and no arrests made as the trucks sped away to their destination and the villagers melted into the darkness.

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Mandatory panic buttons

Vehicle location tracking devices (VLTDs) and panic buttons will be mandatory in buses, school buses, ambulances and other specified vehicles in Odisha from 2024. A notification states that new vehicles in these categories registered on or after 1 January 2024 will have to be fitted with AIS-140 standard VLTDs and panic buttons before registration. Older vehicles registered in 2023 or earlier will have to comply by 30 June 2024. Vehicle owners will have the freedom to choose any VLTD from available VLTD manufacturers approved by the government of Odisha.

Those who fail to comply will be denied fitness certificates, transfer of ownership, permits, national permit authorisation and other documentation with effect from 1 July 2024.

The objective is to track and monitor vehicles plying on the roads to ensure the safety of passengers, particularly women and children.

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