Asian Athletics: Amit Shah posters on Odisha road pulled down amid BJD-BJP games
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Asian Athletics: Amit Shah posters on Odisha road pulled down amid BJD-BJP games

Union ministers Vijay Goel, Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram won’t attend event. BJP slams removal of Shah’s posters, party flags along Kalinga Stadium.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2017 18:28 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Asian Athletics Championships,Bhubaneswar,BJD
The fight over the sports event is the latest in the acrimony between the BJD and the BJP. Incidentally, BJP president Amit Shah is in the midst of a three-day tour to the state. (PTI)

Union sports minister Vijay Goel, his ministerial colleagues and BJP’s Odisha heavyweights, Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram, will not attend the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar starting Wednesday.

The leaders have cited different reasons, but their decision comes amid a bitter political fight between the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Incidentally, BJP president Amit Shah is in the midst of a three-day tour to Odisha and has taken on the BJD.

Odisha is hosting the five-day 22nd Asian Athletics Championships, the biggest sporting event in the state’s history, at Kalinga Stadium.

The Odisha government formally invited Goel for the opening ceremony but he will not attend because of “prior engagements”. A member of Goel’s office said the minister had more pressing work in Delhi.

Union petroleum minister Pradhan’s aides said he would be abroad on the scheduled day. Union tribal affairs minister Oram did not pull punches and expressed annoyance over “lack of courtesy”.

Oram, who recently accused the state government of making the sports event a ruling party affair, said he was invited only for the closing day ceremony. He added that the state government was making it look like as if it organised the event on its own without any help from the Centre.

Questioning the “boycott” by the BJP ministers, BJD MP Pratap Deb said, “It is unfortunate that BJP is playing politics over an event that has brought pride to the state.”

A sand sculpture based on the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships made by sand artist Subal Maharana, in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday. (PTI)

The BJD snapped its 11-year-old ties with the BJP ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha and Odisha polls.

Shah is on a whirlwind tour of the state to restructure the party apparatus at grassroots ahead of the 2019 assembly polls.

Shah, who kickstarted a “Mo booth sabuthu mazboot (My booth strongest)” programme on Tuesday in chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s pocket borough of Hinjili assembly constituency in Ganjam district, is trying to make it a high-pitched battle between BJD and BJP in the polls.

Huge posters of Shah recently came up on the road lining Kalinga Stadium. This triggered a war of words between the two parties and the BJD camp suggested there was more of Shah and less of flags and posters of the event and participating countries.

BJD leaders said Shah’s posters along the stadium were an aesthetic disaster and belittled the state’s achievement.

Barely hours before the event, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation officials pulled down Shah’s posters and BJP party flags on the road lining the stadium. This led to a protest by BJP workers, who scuffled with the civic body officials. Condemning the move, BJP described it as the ruling party’s intolerance over its growing popularity in Odisha.

Shah, who concludes his three-day tour to the state on Thursday, said in Ganjam that the BJP would win at least 2/3rd of the 147 assembly seats in the 2019 polls. “I have learnt politics at booth level and I can say for sure BJP will win the next polls on its own.”

Veteran BJD leader and agriculture minister Damodar Rout responded to Shah’s remark, saying, “Lotus (BJP’s symbol) can’t bloom in saline water (coastal Odisha).” Rout said the BJD would win at least 120 assembly seats in the 2019 election.

For CM Patnaik, the athletics championships could not have come at a better time. The BJD was facing intense scrutiny and questions about its future.

Marshalling his bureaucracy to organise the international event, Patnaik successfully projected himself as the tallest leader of the state who could organise the sports event in less than 90 days.

The opening ceremony at 6pm will see over 800 athletes from 45 countries march down the newly laid tracks of Kalinga Stadium, with thousands in the stands.

First Published: Jul 05, 2017 14:59 IST