Odisha: Voters sulk as “Odia Asmita” shuts out bread and butter (and chicken) issues from parties’ poll narratives | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Odisha: Voters sulk as “Odia Asmita” shuts out bread and butter (and chicken) issues from parties’ poll narratives

ByDebabrata Mohanty
May 24, 2024 03:13 AM IST

Political parties are debating issues Odia Asmita (Odia pride), which BJP has made its poll plank.

Bijaylaxmi Das, a housewife in Bhubaneswar is worried about the long heatwave this summer that is making her family's life miserable. What worries her more these days is the rising prices of vegetables, chicken and pulses that are threatening to dent her household budget. Last week, Das had a bitter argument with her neighbourhood chicken seller when he demanded 300 per kg, a steep hike from 240 that she had bought a week before that.

Ganjam, May 13 (ANI): Voters wait to cast a vote for the Odisha Assembly Election 2024, at Gopalpur in Ganjam district on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Sai Saswat Mishra) PREMIUM
Ganjam, May 13 (ANI): Voters wait to cast a vote for the Odisha Assembly Election 2024, at Gopalpur in Ganjam district on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Sai Saswat Mishra)

With prices of vegetables such as potatoes rising by 60 % in less than a month, housewives like Das are feeling the pinch like most people in Odisha where the inflation rate in the consumer price index, the measure of the yearly rise in inflation in food articles, beverages, manufactured products such as processed food and footwear has been the highest among the 22 major states consecutively for last 7 months.

As per the statistics and programme implementation ministry that compiled the CPI, in April, the inflation rate in Odisha was 7.11 % against the national average of 4.83 %. In the previous months too, the inflation rates were above 7 % compared to the corresponding months of the previous year. Incidentally at 3.75 %, the inflation rate in Odisha in March 2023 was one of the lowest in the country in March last year.

According to the Union government’s Agmarknet portal, the average wholesale price of tomatoes in the country went up by 62% to Rs.1,512 per quintal in April when compared to the corresponding month in the previous year while the same for potatoes spiked by 50%.

Odisha voters such as Das and her daughter, a first-time voter, are feeling the pinch of inflation with many skipping chicken, for one, but they are more dismayed that the bread and butter issues do not merit much attention from prominent political parties like BJD, BJP and Congress.

Like them, thousands of people in villages and cities have been disappointed that political parties have not focussed on key issues such as drinking water supply, lack of teachers in schools and colleges, lack of doctors and well-paved roads.

As per government statistics, the coverage of drinking water supply in Odisha at 68.6 % is lower than the national average of 71.7 % while the percentage of children dropping out of schools after Std-X is 49.9 %, the highest in the country and far higher than national average of 20.6% in 2021-22.

At least 30 % of the 54000 schools in the state do not have tap water connections. More than 6400 villages in the state don't have roads, forcing patients to be carried in charpoys to nearby hospitals as ambulances can't roll into the habitations. Vacancies in the schools have led to a lopsided teacher-student ratio with one teacher in high schools for every 23 students against the national average of 19 while the same for higher secondary is 1: 42 against the national average of 1:27.

To be sure, these issues were customarily mentioned in party manifestos but over the past couple of weeks, they have found no place in the campaign narrative.

Instead, political parties are debating issues Odia Asmita (Odia pride), which BJP has made its poll plank. The BJP’s national leadership has focussed on the missing key to the Jagannath temple’s ‘ratna bhandar’, opening the four gates of the shrine or slamming the rise of VK Pandian, the Tamil Nadu-born lieutenant of chief minister Naveen Patnaik whose anticipated succession to Patnaik is being seen as affront to Odia sensibilities.

The BJD campaign spearheaded by Pandian is limited to mostly attacking union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan, promoting freebies like 100 units of free electricity and how chief minister Patnaik wants to develop Odisha by 2034 without spelling out details. The Congress campaign has been by and large lacklustre.

Despite political parties giving the bread and butter issues a miss, anger over the lack of basic facilities across the state is already being reflected with villagers boycotting the polls or blocking the roads, unhappy and angry with political parties.

In Cuttack district early this month, senior Biju Janata Dal candidate from Baramba assembly constituency, Debi Prasad Mishra, faced a humiliating situation when some people in Manapur village surrounded him over drinking water issues in the area.

Opposing the campaigning by Mishra, villagers blocked the road lining up pots, buckets and utensils on the road as they turned away the campaign vehicle of Mishra, shouting, "No water and no votes for the BJD,” fumed a woman.

In Gudiapatna village of Ganjam district, villagers boycotted the elections on May 13 over an unfulfilled demand to solve their drinking water problem. Several women staged a protest by putting empty pots and buckets near the polling booth.

In the Derabishi block of the coastal Kendrapara district, angry women, holding empty pots and buckets, picketed the local block development office building, demanding an immediate supply of potable water. The villagers have threatened to boycott the upcoming polls on June 1 if the drinking water crisis is resolved soon.

“The politicians come to us for votes but do not care to solve our problems. Our demands have never been taken seriously. If we do not boycott the polls, our demand will remain unfulfilled for another five years,” said an elderly villager.

Many believe that political parties are skirting issues like lack of drinking water or inflation simply because of people have not been demanding enough under BJD’s long rule. “While the people of Odisha never became demanding, opposition parties like BJP and Congress were happy being uncritical of the government. Since last five years, the bonhomie between BJD and BJP is in the public domain and that also contributed to governance issues taking a backseat,” said Mishra.

Meanwhile, citizens like Das continue to feel the pinch of inflation as well as government apathy over issues like drinking water, lack of roads and the deteriorating standard of education.

There is palpable anger in the rural hinterland over the government taking them for granted as the muted voice of “paribartan”(change in regime) is being heard across teashops and public gatherings. Whether these issues find their way to EVMs will be known on June 4 when votes are counted for the state’s 147 assembly seats and 21 Lok Sabha seats of Odisha.

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