The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been campaigning against Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, saying he doesn't know the state's language Oriya - a charge rubbished by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).Ever since Patnaik entered politics in 1997, his rivals in the state have criticised him for not being able to speak Oriya fluently or write in the state's official language.
Patnaik, who heads the ruling BJD, usually reads out his Oriya speeches from an English script, but he does know how to sign his name in Oriya. "How can a man rule the state without knowing his mother tongue?" Bhakta Charan Das, one of the working presidents of the Orissa unit of the Congress, told IANS, adding that his party would make it an election issue.
But the BJD has brushed aside these allegations. Damodar Rout, secretary general of BJD, asserted that Patnaik speaks Oriya and that he is "able to communicate with people in Oriya although he has an English medium background"."He may not be able to write Oriya but that is not important. It is not the expression but the emotion that is important for the people," Rout told IANS.
The BJP - now estranged from the BJD after an 11-year alliance - also said it would make it an election issue, claiming that some of their leaders from outside Orissa had learnt the language."Our leader Sushma Swaraj delivered part of her speech in Oriya at a public meeting here on March 16," said Nayan Kishor Mohanty, BJP spokesperson in Orissa."She learnt the language within a few hours. But Naveen Patnaik failed to learn it even after being chief minister of the state for nine long years," Mohanty said. "We will distribute Sushma Swaraj's Oriya speech to the voters," he added.
Patnaik, the son of former chief minister Biju Patnaik, was born in Cuttack. After studying in the prestigious Doon School in Dehradun, he graduated from Delhi University in 1967.