It was a hot afternoon in the coastal belt of Gopalpur in Ganjam district of southern Odisha. Already, young fishermen — supporters of Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal — have got down to poll campaign. Some of them were seen pasting the party’s poll posters at Naya Boxipalli village.
No other party was visible on the village walls. For, they have lost traction with the villagers, who have seen both the October 1999 cyclone and Phailin of last October. Patnaik’s government came out a clear winner, managing the pre and post-calamity situations well.
So much so that nobody is blaming the government for two children’s death in a house collapse in the village 11 days ago, although the house was damaged in Phailin and was never repaired or rebuilt in the last five months.
Although the state government swiftly evacuated villagers from many coastal habitats ahead of Phailin, hundreds of fishermen are still waiting for government help to rebuild their lives.
The posters carry a photo of Patnaik receiving an international award with the caption, “For excellent management of the Phailin crisis”. As Odisha goes to simultaneous elections for the assembly and the Lok Sabha, the BJD is going full-throttle to cash in on Patnaik’s crisis management.
“The BJD MLA has already visited our village a few times, reminding us of what they had done to save our lives,” says M Vasudev Rao. These coastal districts have heavy presence of Telugu-origin people.
Cyclone and its management assumed political significance in the Odisha polls earlier too. The October 1999 super cyclone caught the then Giridhar Gomang-led Congress government completely unawares and about 10,000 people died in the calamity. In the March 2000 state elections, the Congress got ousted and never returned to power.
But this time, to thwart the BJD’s moves, Congress leaders are busy touring these areas. In Nolia-Nuagaon, another cyclone-hit coastal habitat, villager Prashant Sahu says, “They (the Congress) promised to fulfil all our demands to rebuild our houses and boats. Now, they tell us that the (state) government has not helped us.”
While the BJD managed the evacuation and relief operations during the last calamity, the Congress is now pinning its hopes on the locals’ despair over missing rehabilitation initiatives.