Orissa is up for grabs.
Clearly, that’s what the leaders of all three coalitions vying for power both at the Centre and state — assembly polls are being held too — believe.
Ever since the BJD decided to break its alliance with the BJP in early March, leaders of the UPA, NDA and Third Front have been converging here as never before. All believe the state is in political flux and if only they put in the effort, they can win a majority of the 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly seats.
The political onslaught on the state reached a fever pitch on Wednesday as NCP chief Sharad Pawar finally took the step of addressing four rallies together with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and holding a press conference in the company of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury as well.
Elsewhere Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed meetings in Kalahandi and Kandhamal, while Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi descended on Sambalpur and Rourkela, promising to make Orissa as vibrant as Gujarat if the state voted for the BJP.
While Pawar was careful not to attack the Congress, Patnaik had no such compulsions and sought to recall Orissa’s ‘dark days’ when the party ruled.
Rahul returned the compliment in Kandhamal charging the BJD leader with not only having failed to implement centrally funded welfare schemes, but also destroying peace.
“We have to keep both the Congress and the BJP at bay,” said Naveen Patnaik, “to protect the interests of the people of Orissa.”
“Orissa was once a peaceful state, but that is no longer true,” said Rahul in Kandhamal. “The government has presided over the torture of people and communal riots in the name of religion.”
“The BJD betrayed us without any provocation,” thundered Modi in Sambalpur.
He is making his second campaign trip to Orissa, having addressed four rallies on Sunday. “But we will emerge triumphant because we believe in development. Orissa has far more natural reserves than Gujarat, and yet it has lagged behind. There is not a taluka in Orissa from where people have not gone to Gujarat seeking employment. We want to bring about such a change that people from Gujarat will want to go to Orissa to work.”