India: Naveen Patnaik’s Failed Electoral Philanthropy In Odisha – OpEd


All attempts by senior leadership to form an electoral alliance between the BJD and BJP in Odisha have failed due to popular opposition to such an alliance in forthcoming elections. Both parties have declared their candidates for the general and state elections. Mr. Naveen Patnaik has also announced his candidates for the BJD. At this stage, it seems like the narrative of the ruling party under the leadership of Mr. Patnaik resembles that of a surrendered general who wishes to become a philanthropist in electoral politics to hide his failures for more than two decades.

The notion of philanthropy in politics may seem conceivable, yet within the realm of electoral politics, there exists no straightforward or adept method of disarming and overcoming political opposition. Despite this, the political opposition, led by the BJP in the state, has operated akin to a second-hand ruling party, lacking the vigour expected of a true opposition force in democracy. As Chief Minister, Mr. Patnaik currently faces minimal political opposition within the state, yet he has still failed to deliver the oft-quoted development for the masses. 

In his initial decade as Chief Minister, Mr Patnaik espoused the non-existent dreams of his father, Mr. Biju Patnaik, to the people of Odisha. Now, after two decades at the helm, he presents his own dreams of “New Odisha, Naveen Odisha.” These dreams resemble the fictitious and supercilious American dreams or the aspirations of salvation in Hindu spiritual teachings—illusive and intangible. Their realisation remains elusive, as even the dreamer himself seems uncertain about their true essence.

Mr. Patnaik has not only squandered the political goodwill of the working masses in the state, but he has also failed to mobilise the internal resources of the state for the welfare of the people. He has failed to generate wealth and employment for the masses and failed to deliver health and education for the masses. Additionally, he has failed to develop the state on a prosperous and peaceful path, as he indirectly hands over the state and government to the Hindutva forces led by the BJP. He has redeployed his tented MLAs and weak leaders as candidates who are likely to lose the election to the viciously organised Hindutva forces. It is evident from the way he manages to maintain a resigned state of leadership with the withdrawn mindset of a defeated commander in politics.

By fielding tented MLAs and feeble leaders as candidates—many of whom are poised to lose against the well-organised Hindutva electoral machinery—Mr. Patnaik appears to be acquiescing to the impending dominance of these forces. His approach reflects a leader resigned to his fate, adopting the demeanour of a defeated commander in the political arena, rather than actively steering the state towards a more robust and resilient progressive political future. 

In the forthcoming elections, the BJP sells Modi’s dream, and the BJD sells Naveen Patnaik’s dreams the masses. What are these dreams? What do these dreams mean for the working masses? No one knows these elusive dreams. The truth is that the true essence of these elusive dreams remains shrouded in mystery. People must be careful of such political quacks who sell dreams during elections to control the everyday lives of the masses after their victory. People must defeat these dream sellers and choose candidates who talk about secular, scientific, successful, and alternative policy visions for the masses. It’s imperative for the public to exercise caution amidst the electoral cacophony, wary of those who peddle dreams during elections only to support capitalist class post-victory. Instead, voters should reject these purveyors of dreams and opt for candidates who espouse historically grounded successful policy visions that truly benefit the masses. By doing so, they can ensure a future governed by tangible progress rather than fleeting promises.

The current candidate profiles of all mainstream political parties in Odisha resemble an ideology-free zone in politics, devoid of principles, policies, and visions for people. The present and future of the state and its people are poised to be in the hands of individuals lacking vision. The prevailing camaraderie between the ruling party and the opposition party has transformed democracy in the state into a corporate joint venture aimed at capturing and sharing power to serve the ruling and non-ruling elites. This collusion sidelines democratic scrutiny, allowing the state’s resources to be monopolised by the corporate class unchecked. Politics for profit is the only motto of a market democracy led by the BJD and BJP in the state. Both the parties are working overtime in handing over the mining and marine resources of the state to the corporate class without any form of democratic scrutiny. 

As the forthcoming elections approach, they bring to light the deep-rooted political crisis plaguing the state. With no champions to represent the interests of the working masses, the future governance of Odisha hangs in the balance, underscoring the urgent need for a paradigm shift towards policies that prioritize the welfare of the people over elite interests. The election without democratic principles and vision for the people reveal the deeply ingrained political crisis in the state where no one is there to represent the interests of the working masses.

In this critical juncture, it is imperative for the people in Odisha to unite and reject both the BJP and BJD, seeking instead a political alternative rooted in substantive policies aimed at the development and welfare of the masses. Only through this concerted effort can the populace alter their democratic destiny, breaking free from the grip of various iterations of the ruling class and castes that serve the interests of crony capitalists. These vested interests have long plundered the state’s forest, water, agricultural, mineral and marine resources, leaving the people mired in poverty and deprivation. It is only by dismantling this entrenched system and electing a government that genuinely prioritises the needs of the working masses that a new political dawn can emerge in Odisha. Therefore, the power lies in the hands of the people to forge a new path forward, one that fosters genuine progress and prosperity for all, rather than perpetuating the cycle of mass exploitation and neglect. History is the only witness to political victories of the masses over all empires and their powerful agencies. Odia people defeated Ashoka and they can defeat the political friendship between Modi and Naveen too.

Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Bhabani Shankar Nayak works as Professor of Business Management, Guildhall School of Business and Law, London Metropolitan University, UK.

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