As the stage gets set for the General Elections next year, the political scene in Odisha is getting dirtier with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik leaving no stones unturned to come back to power for the fourth consecutive term.
Arrest of Jagneswar Babu, a former BJD general secretary and a former MLA, who switched sides and joined Patnaik’s political foe Pyarimohan Mohapatra, on May Day has indicated that the run up to the polls next year will witness many surprises. Babu was incidentally the president of the Odisha State Cooperative Bank (OSCB) before he switched sides and is the secretary general of Mohapatra’s Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM). He was arrested on the charges of financial irregularities in OSCB.
Not that the State Vigilance discovered about the loan disbursed illegally to Bijoyananda Cooperative Sugar Mills at Bolangir recently. This was known to those in power for the last three years and had even been raised in the Assembly by the Opposition Congress.
But the situation was different then. Babu who was the BJD general secretary then was virtually in charge of the cooperative sector. The issue was raised by the Congress in the Assembly in 2010 and the BJD had defended Babu unitedly in the House. Babu, then the OSCB president, had not done anything illegal and the loan was advanced in the interest of the sugarcane farmers, the then agriculture and cooperation minister Damodar Rout had clarified in the Assembly. Babu was such a trusted lieutenant that he was entrusted by Patnaik to draft the party's constitution in 2010.
The situation has now changed completely after Babu joined Mohapatra and started speaking against Patnaik. As the secretary general of OJM, Babu is the second-in-command of Mohapatra. The OJM has been dealt a serious blow by the arrest of Babu. It was converted into a political party by Mohapatra only in April first week.
The action against Babu sparked off a political blame game with the OJM accusing the Naveen Patnaik Government of conspiring against the party. OJM president Mohapatra said that the party will fight against the action taken by the vigilance wing at the diktat of the government. The OJM organised a demonstration before the Raj Bhavan on Saturday protesting against the arrest.
The State Vigilance said that Babu, in connivance with Loan Committee members of the bank, sanctioned the loan illegally without adequate security and in blatant violation of NABARD guidelines. The decisions were not even placed before the executive committee of the management of the bank. The fact that the sugar mill had accumulated losses of `5.8 crore and defaulted payments was ignored.
With elections (both urban body polls and Assembly next year) approaching, April witnessed hectic political activities with both the BJD and Congress indulging in one-upmanship to score points. While the BJD called a hartal on April 26 and launched a signature campaign against Central apathy and demanding special category state status for Odisha, the Congress was not left behind. A high level team from the state Congress met President Pranab Mukherjee at Bhubaneswar and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram to demand a special package for Odisha.