Having ruled out joining a pre-election alliance ~ either with the BJP or with the amorphous Opposition ~ Odisha’s Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik, has yet again flagged the demand for according special category status to the state.
From LK Advani, then the Deputy Prime Minister, to Narendra Modi, the demand has been turned down consistently. It was even turned down when the Biju Janata Dal was a partner of the NDA coalition, helmed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. So too has Niti Aayog, obviously assuming that other states might raise similar demands. Mr Patnaik has lobbed the ball again to Centre court, so to speak. The timing is critical ~ on the eve of the elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Odisha Assembly.
The Chief Minister has in effect raised a profoundly local issue, one that has a bearing on the state’s geo-climatic conditions. Hence the emphasis on the state’s vulnerability to natural calamities in the letter that Mr Patnaik sent to Mr Modi on Friday. He is spot on when he claims that the BJP has reneged on its promise that was made in the 2014 election manifesto.
Odisha is vulnerable to occasionally devastating geo-climatic conditions, notably the “super cyclone” in December 1999, not to forget the multiple and recurrent natural disasters. It has been an awesome distinction for Odisha, battered as it has been by 35 per cent of all the severe cyclonic storms that have crossed the eastern coast.
The Chief Minister has alerted the Prime Minister that more than 80 per cent of the geographical area and nearly 90 per cent of population are vulnerable to one or more disasters. Given the current trend of the climatic change, the coastal areas are likely to be more vulnerable to extreme climatic events and severe cyclonic disturbances. There is little doubt that Mr Patnaik’s letter is embedded in undisputed geographical reality, and it will be unfortunate if the renewed pitch is accorded a federal spin. Yet a firm decision cannot be expected before the state goes to the polls. Not that the Centre hasn’t advanced assistance in the wake of floods and drought. But the funding has been generally inadequate.
Mr Patnaik has clearly utilised the opportunity to underline Odisha’s contribution to the economic health of the nation ~ natural resources such as iron ore and minerals, coal and energy security, tele-density, rail and road connectivity, and the banking network. Over the past six years, the Gross State Domestic Product of Odisha has registered a 50 per cent increase.
The Chief Minister has clothed his demand for special category status with gains in the economic segment, despite the odds. He does have a point. So too has the Centre as it is a pregnant issue. Delhi must reflect; so too must Bhubaneswar.