BHUBANESWAR: The day begins early for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik these days. Since January 23 when he launched himself into the campaigns for panchayat polls, he addresses on an average half a dozen meetings a day.
The only star campaigner of the BJD, the demand for Naveen to campaign is unmanageable and he has to cover all the districts before curtains are drawn on the campaigning. The scripts of the election speeches are same at all the meetings but people are not bothered. Despite the allegations of scams and irregularities in the implementation of schemes, Naveen has been able to remain untouched and goes about his day’s work with a “business as usual” fashion.
Opposition-inspired black flag demonstrations do not deter him or his partymen from predicting an overwhelming victory in the Zilla Parishads. Party sources assert that the tally of the BJD is likely to cross 400 this time.
At his campaign meetings, Naveen often launches a broadside against the Congress, the main opposition. He hops on in a helicopter from place to place and in meeting after meeting, he charges the Congress leaders with shedding crocodile tears for the development of Odisha. Referring to the all-pervasive corruption in UPA II, Naveen alleges that the Congress is
submerged in a sea of corruption and he uses the Odia language to convey it and draw cheers from the crowd.
However, behind every Naveen show is Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra, his main strategist. He comes second to Naveen in demand for campaigning for the polls. Pyarimohan has already covered major pockets of western Odisha to campaign for the party candidates in the constituencies of his protégés. All the ministers, MPs, MLAs and senior leaders have been confined to their districts and constituencies.
Despite the BJD’s confidence, enthusiasm in the Congress camp is palpable. The resignation of agriculture minister Pradip Maharathi over the Pipili gangrape case, the deadly attack on Panchayati Raj Minister Maheswar Mohanty while addressing an election meeting in Puri district and throwing of shoes at a former minister Pramila Mallick in Jajpur district have given a boost to the Congress campaign. “These incidents are signs of people’s pent-up anger against the 12 year misrule of the BJD,” president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) Niranjan Patnaik, the star campaigner of the Congress, maintains in his campaign.
Niranjan is leaving no stones unturned to take the party to victory in the panchayat polls. He is a busy man these days, hopping from one meeting to another. The demand for him to campaign is the highest for the Congress. For the party, there are issues galore, starting from the deteriorating law and order situation to rising crime graph against women in the state. The Congress has also for the first time released a manifesto for the panchayat polls promising true panchayat raj when it returns to power next time and indicting 14 ministers, including the chief minister.
In between his hectic campaigning schedule, Niranjan has managed to fly to New Delhi to meet party chief Sonia Gandhi to pander to the high command culture. The former minister is scheduled to address election meetings in Sundargarh and Sambalpur districts after his return from New Delhi.
The OPCC chief apart, the party has other campaigners who have demand in their own constituencies. Union Minister Srikant Jena is a big draw, while Nabarangpur MP Pradip Majhi, former chief minister Hemananda Biswal, senior leaders Narasingh Mishra, Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, former MP Hema Gamang, former OPCC presidents Sarat Patnaik and Jaydev Jena make up for the bulk of the campaigners for the national party.
The BJP has entered the fray with former Union Minister and state President Jual Oram as the star campaigner. BJP Legislature Party leader K V Singhdeo and Suresh Pujari are also campaigning in several constituencies of western Odisha.