Days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s pep talk to cadres here to strengthen the BJP from the grassroots, Odisha Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik’s scheduled visit to Mayurbhanj on Friday has given rise to speculation of renewal of rivalry between the two parties in the tribal heartland.
Mr. Patnaik will visit Mayurbhanj, the home district of President Droupadi Murmu, to inaugurate irrigation projects on the Subarnarekha and Deo rivers on Friday. Subarnarekha is an ongoing project that began in 1994. Of the 1.14 lakh hectare land of irrigation potential in Mayurbhanj and Balasore districts, only 15,000 hectare has been covered. The Odisha CM will launch works to bring another 17,000 hectare under the irrigation project. The Deo irrigation project will irrigate 9,900 hectares in Mayurbhanj and adjoining Keonjhar districts.
As there is no election round the corner, Mr. Patnaik’s visit would have been treated with no political significance. However, the visit to Mayurbhanj, where tribals constitute 58% of the district’s population, is taking place days after the party – apparently for the first time – celebrated World Tribal Day on August 9 on a major scale. It was seen as the BJD’s concerted effort to consolidate its image as a pro-tribal party.
Political observers attribute the sudden spurt in the BJD’s activities, especially on tribal matters, to Mr. Shah’s repeated emphasis on Mr. Murmu’s election.
The Home Minister came to the State on Monday after almost two years, but it was enough to perturb the BJD. At three major meetings Mr. Shah attended in Bhubaneswar, he unfailingly narrated the election of Ms. Murmu to the highest office of the country and said the good times of Odisha had arrived. “Droupadi Murmu who was born in a poor family of Odisha went on to become the President of India. The Constituent Assembly used to be represented by people from all walks of life from all States. But, it had one lacuna that it did not have a place for a tribal woman. This is a moment of pride for tribal societies of the country and Odisha,” former BJP president had underlined.
Veteran journalist Rabi Dash said, “Like the BJP that swiftly tackles political challenges nationally, the BJD is also quick to do course correction if it sees any political threat. The BJD’s political leaderships know that tribal voters remain faithful to a political party for a long period. This is the reason why the Congress still has a sizeable vote bank among tribals. The regional party does not want tribals to shift their loyalty to the BJP in wake of Ms. Murmu becoming the President.”
“Odisha is home to 62 tribal groups, including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups, the most diverse tribal population in the country. The BJD had never celebrated World Tribal Day at the party office before. The celebration on August 9 this year was clearly intended at sending across a message to tribal communities,” Mr. Dash said.
Mayurbhanj remains the focus district for the BJP as it shares boundaries with West Bengal and tribal-dominated Jharkhand. Apart from the President, Comptroller and Auditor General of India Girish Chandra Murmu, a long-time confidant of Mr. Modi, is also from the district. Union Minister of State Bishweswar Tudu is also from Mayurbhanj.
Soon after Ms. Murmu won the presidential election last month, the BJD spoke of the ‘brother-sister’ relationship between the Odisha CM and Mr. Murmu by putting up a large number of posters with photographs of the latter tying rakhi to Mr. Patnaik at Baripada, the district headquarters town of Mayurbhanj.
Mayurbhanj remains crucial for the saffron party as it had performed better than other districts in Odisha in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. In the 2017 zilla parishad elections, the BJP had won 49 out of the 56 seats in the district
Though the regional party wrested control over Mayurbhanj by winning 53 of the 56 zilla parishad seats in March this year, it is not in a mood to leave an inch to the BJP on the crucial political turf.
On the other hand, the recent appointment of Sunil Bansal, who assisted Mr. Shah during the party’s spectacular show in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh, as national general secretary in charge of Odisha showed that the saffron party is keen in strengthening its position in the eastern State.
Congress spokesperson Satya Nayak, however, said the two parties were involved in friendly fight as the BJP could not afford to annoy the regional party in wake of the growing impression that allies were being ditched by the saffron party.