BERHAMPUR/BHUBANESWAR: Amit Shah is in Odisha to do his booth-level business, and he got down to the job straightaway in a village bang beside Naveen Patnaik’s constituency of Hinjili.
It was a shot across the BJD’s bow in Odisha: roll over, Naveen, the Narendra Modi juggernaut has begun to roll in Odisha. It is a three-day mission meant to get the feet dirty, the sort of which was prescribed by Shah to all Union ministers when they assembled in Bhubaneswar for the BJP national executive back in May. That was where the booth-level offensive to capture frontiers hitherto unconquered - such as Odisha - was unfurled, and Shah is here to lead by example.
As is par for the course for Amit Shah atmospherics these days, a poor man was found whose meal the BJP boss would partake in sight of popping flashbulbs. That man this time was Benu Swain, a 50-year-old farmer of Hugulapata village in Kukudakhandi block in whose hut Shah and his missionaries sat down to a suitably spartan meal served on plantain leaves.
The meal of rice, dal, ghaanta (a mix of greens and lentils) and fried vegetable may have been simple for the guests - Shah, Dharmendra Pradhan and retinue - but princely for Swain, a widowed man with four sons to provide for.
As a backdrop for the point Shah is trying to make here in Odisha, the house was perfect. With gaping holes in the roof and walls with their entrails showing, Swain's house is crying out for repairs but he has no money. The local administration has not been able to help him out.
Yet, the rural housing scheme is Naveen Patnaik’s pet tactic to beat off the BJP advance in his state. So just 20 km from pampered Hinjili, this poverty lunch provided ideal ammo for Amit Shah.
It even had a huge lotus painted on the wall.
The meal provided the fuel for Shah to go on all day long in his busy trip to Odisha. At a public meeting at Hugulapata village, he declared forth, "The BJP is going to form the next government in Odisha with two-thirds majority in 2019."
The BJP boss said as a Gujarati he welcome Odiyas’ who go over to the west coast in search of livelihood. But should they have to? "It will be better if the youth of Odisha find jobs here, and contribute their mite to the development of the state and take care of their parents,” he said.
Amit Shah said he owed Odisha. “I have not come here as president of the BJP, but as a vistarak (propagator). I became president of the party after becoming an active primary member from Odisha, and it is my job to strengthen the party here like any other BJP worker."