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Monday, June 09, 2014


Odisha: Tribal and Minority cards may boomerang to Naveen  

"In Odisha, while Naveen’s two cards at one time would largely dissatisfy both the minority community and the tribal people of Kandhamal who are into conflict since long, the tribal card would just become a bi-edged sword and boomerang to Naveen in 2014 Odisha elections as the tribal people all-over the state are angry over BJD government’s callous attitude towards the tribal rights over land and resources and forceful persuasion of anti-tribal industrialization and development policies."

Dr Sasmit Patra  

The tribal and minority cards played fresh by Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and leaders from different other political parties has definitely forced Congress party to come up with strategic statements to counter the card played by Sangma supporters without disappointing any of the communities who make party’s traditional vote bank. In Odisha, while Naveen’s two cards at one time would largely dissatisfy both the minority community and the tribal people of Kandhamal who are into conflict since long, the tribal card would just become a bi-edged sword and boomerang to Naveen in 2014 Odisha elections as the tribals are angry over BJD government’s callous attitude towards the tribal rights over land and resources and forceful persuasion of anti-tribal industrialization and development policies.


Kashipur, Kalinga Nagar and Kandhamal are the places of testimony to Naveen Patnaik’s ineffective handling of tribal and minority affairs in Odisha and he has been severely censured by media and many national and international organizations for the killing of three tribal people in Kashipur of Rayagada district in 2000, sixteen tribal people in Kalinga Nagar of Jajpur district in 2006 and for the ethnic turned communal violence in Kandhamal in 2008. Tribals and minorities have predominantly been the most susceptible sections of society who have suffered under the Naveen Patnaik regime. It is this realization that has led to Naveen Patnaik building his goodwill among the tribals and minorities, predominantly Christians. Dilip Tirkey was nominated to the Rajya Sabha this year by Naveen Patnaik, favoured above eminent stalwarts like former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, lady tribal leader Tulsi Munda and singer Prafulla Kar. In Dilip’s Tirkey’s nomination, the first signs of Naveen’s gameplan became visible. Dilip Tirkey is a highly admired Christian tribal from Sundargarh district, a region where more than forty percent voters are minorities. His voice for Naveen can cast a spell in 2014. In one stroke Naveen Patnaik exhibited his craftsmanship as a sympathizer of the tribals and minorities and has more or less wrapped up Sundargarh for 2014.

In Purno A. Sangma, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik has found another chip to further his tribal-minority votebank politics. Naveen has been shouting hoarse justifying his support to Sangma. The press and media are replete with Naveen’s justification that he is supporting Sangma since he is a tribal and a minority. P.A.Sangma did not become the Lok Sabha speaker since he was a Christian tribal. Nor has he been respected for his tribal and religious affiliations. He is known as an eminent person due to his merit, knowledge, inter-personal relations and strong political intellect. But unfortunately for Naveen and Sangma who are brothers-in-arms today, only tribal and religious credentials matter presently.

When P.A.Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma met Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar to secure Naveen’s signature as the first proposer for his father’s candidature of P.A. Sangma for the Presidential nomination, Conrad said, “It clearly shows his (Naveen Patnaik’s) love for the tribal people and Christian people.” Wasn’t such a statement in the presence of Naveen Patnaik communal and community-based? When a minority speaks in public domain supporting his community, he is termed communal and majority community people supporting him are termed minority-appeasers. This is a refrain usually carried by the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS. How come the same BJP was quiet when such Christian favouring statements were being made from Naveen Niwas, that too for a Presidential nominee? Not one voice from the BJP countered such blatant minority favouring statement of Naveen and Conrad. Instead you have the BJP supporting Sangma. Probably the local BJP unit in Odisha is aware that they would be pulled up by L.K.Advani if they ever dared open their mouth on Naveen. After all, Naveen is still the potential NDA ally for furthering the prospects of Advani to the PM’s chair. Why did the press and media in the state prefer not to ask the Chief Minister as to how a Presidential candidate could be chosen by Naveen based on his tribal status and Christian religion? When a person apart from Naveen speaks up for the minorities, it is termed as “sankyalagu tustikarana” (minority appeasement). When Naveen does the same, he is “dharmanirapekhya” (secular) and his “bones speak of secularism.” I am sure Naveen’s secular bones would get a few fractures if he ever visits the interiors of Kandhamal where even today a Nandagiri exists in many villages. But who bothers! Let’s keep the show rolling.

Naveen’s new-found love for tribals and minorities (predominantly Christians) is born out of two reasons. They are political and international. Politically, there are 32 tribal seats out of the 147 in Odisha legislative assembly, 5 tribal seats out of 21 Lok Sabha seats, predominantly spread out across western and southern Odisha, regions where Naveen is expected to face hostilities in 2014, especially in the backdrop of Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s rebellion. It is an open secret that large sections of BJD leadership in western and southern Odisha are still with Pyari Mohan since he had mentored them during 2004 and 2009 elections. Thus, the first game plan is to garner a strong tribal vote-bank and the need to signify seriousness is by sending tribals to Rajya Sabha and supporting them for Presidential races.

In Odisha, out of 147 seats there are 49 seats where minorities, predominantly Christians have a strong vote bank, ranging from six percent to forty five percent and they are also predominantly in the western and southern Odisha belt. The minority votes in these areas usually swing together in one direction. They vote en-mass. In a constituency of 2 lakh votes, sometimes the difference in winning is less than three thousand. A three thousand strong minority vote swinging en-mass in a single direction across 49 seats could tilt the tables between a hung assembly and a landslide majority as seen in 2009. Combined together, the tribal and Christian votes can be a major differentiator in Naveen’s fortunes for 2014. The second aspect is international. Naveen has been an international-centric person. From New York to London to Bhubaneswar, Naveen has travelled a long distance and he is retracing his footsteps. His first foreign trip in twelve years was to London and the second coming up in September to United States of America. Naveen is back to his international demeanour. But he has been severely panned in the international community for Kandhamal predominantly, so much so that at one time he was being equated as “Odisha’s Narendra Modi”, with fears of his visa restrictions being falsely raised. But the fact remains that post-Kandhamal, the image of Naveen had taken a beating internationally. The United States administration placed India in the watch-list predominantly due to Kandhamal and the European Union censured the Indian Prime Minister so much so that Manmohan Singh had to call Kandhamal a “national shame.” Naveen is out to rectify that image. He wants to come across as a leader who is truly secular, Christian loving with a world-view image which was his heritage and strength during his stay in the western hemisphere.

In 2008-09, while the Congress leaders in Odisha were trying to play soft on Kandhamal fearing alienation from the majority community, it was Naveen Patnaik who went out of the way to convince the Sangh Parivar to withdraw their Bandh on Christmas day of 2008. He promised the minority leadership of action against perpetuators of crime in Kandhamal, broke away from the BJP, called VHP and Bajrang Dal fundamentalist organizations and reaffirmed that “his bones speak of secularism” on national television. Naveen was a master player in 2009 with his mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra pulling the strings to perfection. Cut to 2012, the race to February-March, 2014 elections has begun. By December, 2013 the smell of elections would be heavy and thus only about 16-18 months are left to the ballot. Naveen has started his game well before the opposition has even attempted to wake up. By playing the Dilip Tirkey and P.A. Sangma cards he has struck an impression in the minds of the tribal and minority voters. He may not have the “Chanakya” around but twelve years as Chief Minister have taught him a great deal. His latest tribal-minority strategy is set to win him many hearts and hopefully many votes. As it stands probably 2014 would be the election when tribal and minority card gets him home. Or atleast that’s what Naveen is hoping. As the poem goes, “Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Naveen has started thinking that with this new strategy he can. If the opposition has to stop him in his tracks, they need to start thinking on similar lines that “they can.” If not, come 2014, the “vanvaas” (forest exile) would have extended by another five years.

[Dr.Sasmit Patra is a Bhubaneswar based academician and political researcher. He can be reached at]


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