BHUBANESWAR: 2016 was a tumultuous year for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which found itself on the back foot for different reasons including the death of more than 100 children due to Japanese Encephalitis in Malkangiri and malnutrition in Nagada, the Dana Majhi incident which hogged international headlines, killing of innocent tribals and dalits in alleged police firing at Gumudumaha and Mahanadi river water dispute with Chhattisgarh.
Just when the year was coming to end, a sex video allegedly featuring Bhubaneswar Mayor Ananta Narayan Jena went viral on the social media giving the opposition political parties a much-needed opportunity to take on the BJD.
Congress, the main opposition political party in the State, was also in the news for the wrong reasons during the year because of factional fights between the organisational and legislative wings of the party. Even though the party had enough opportunities during the year to corner the BJD, the organisational and legislative wings functioned in a parallel manner creating confusion in the rank and file.
Things deteriorated to such an extent that several party MLAs, including Congress whip in the Assembly Tara Prasad Bahinipati, launched a frontal attack on general secretary of All-India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge, Odisha BK Hariprasad for his failure to contain factionalism.
The youth and students wings of the party also caused embarrassment to the party when some of their members barged into a hotel room shouting slogans in the Capital City where senior party leaders, including Hariprasad and president of Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) Prasad Harichandan, were busy in a meeting. Their grievance was that the party ignored late Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra and did not give him due recognition.
Despite attempts to bring about a rapprochement between the warring factions in Congress, factionalism intensified with a section of senior leaders expressing unhappiness with the style of functioning of the OPCC president.
Situation in the BJP was no better either with some of the senior leaders not happy with the style of functioning of the State leadership. Factionalism also came to the fore in ruling BJD on more than one occasion because of open squabbling between Excise Minister Damodar Rout and his detractors.
Statement by leader of BJD in Lok Sabha Bhartruhari Mahatab about the need for an alliance with Congress to defeat BJP and its subsequent withdrawal sparked off a controversy with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik countering it and reiterating the theory of equi-distance between BJP and Congress.
The BJD had to face embarrassment as the story of Dana Majhi, a poor tribal who had to walk over 10 km carrying his wife’s body on his shoulder from a Government hospital in backward Kalahandi district after being denied a hearse in August, made international news and exposed the poor healthcare facilities in the State.
The BJD Government was under attack throughout the year over issues such as death of 25 people in a hospital fire in Bhubaneswar, high infant and maternal mortality rates, corruption and power crisis. Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak had to resign taking moral responsibility for the hospital fire.
The Opposition alleged that healthcare crumbled in the State when more than 100 children died due to Japanese Encephalitis in tribal-dominated Malkangiri district within a period of two months.
The State Government also drew flak following the death of 19 children due to malnutrition at Nagada village in mineral-rich Jajpur district during June-July.
Another incident in which five tribals and dalits, including a child, were killed in firing allegedly by security forces on July 8 at Gumudumaha in Kandhamal district also evoked widespread condemnation.
While Naveen, who holds the Home portfolio, came under sharp attack for the incident, politicians made a beeline for the nondescript Gumudumaha village alleging highhandedness of security forces. Following public outrage, the State Government ordered a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) into the firing incident.
There was much debate over the Mahanadi river water dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh with the State Government finally approaching the Centre for constituting a tribunal to settle the matter.
The State Government also filed an injunction petition in the Supreme Court demanding that the Chhattisgarh should stop all construction activities over Mahanadi as it would drastically reduce water flow of the river in Odisha.
While the Chief Minister ignored Opposition demand for an all-party meeting to discuss the issue, all-party meeting convened by Leader of Opposition Narasingh Mishra on the issue was a huge success though the BJD did not participate.