It could not have been worse for the chief minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, who, after a decade long chanceless political innings, faces the humiliation of unfair play. His much publicised Posco deal hangs in balance, the Vedanta alumina refinery at Lanjigarh has hit a rock bottom, and the grandiose project, Vedanta University at Puri, has started looking for an escape route from Orissa.
The Orissa HC verdict last month on Vedanta University was nothing short of a sweeping aspersion on his bureaucracy (and an apparent swipe at his image), which had worked overtime to keep him oblivious of many of the things.
Politically, his discomfiture is manifested through his troubled exterior he sports in the recent days while his statements fail to hide the flickers of nervousness. On the issue of Posco or Vedanta the blatant display of advocacy from his officers and political colleagues, more often than not, have left an impression in the public mind that the bureaucracy in Orissa was behaving like a corporate communication wing and the politicians appeared like the cheer girls.
His Revenue Minister SN Patro, whose posh private residence in the city proudly displays a name-plate of an ‘Advocate’, was just short of saying that the High Court was wrong - the honourable court has perhaps “failed to appreciate” the arguments of the government. Not happy with that, a host of other advisors to the chief minister have also made him to be openly critical of the HC verdict. Grapevines have it that a section from the bureaucracy is exerting pressure to challenge the verdict in the apex court so that the issue gets further intensified and the tussle lingers.
The state of the politics in Orissa, for Naveen Patnaik and his cohorts, has suffered an economic downturn and has seriously impaired his image as a progressive individual. This has perhaps hurt his emotions like never before, as if the state`s economy cannot see an upward trend without Vedanta.
When Naveen Patnaik, a political paratrooper, made his entry into Orissa politics in 1999, after being the union minister for steel and mines, he had come to the state with a group of experts to address the issue of water crisis in many parts of Orissa through some novel techniques. Such a run-up to the field of politics made him appear more pragmatic than many of his predecessors. However, the dreams got a silent burial once he came into active politics later to become the chief minister in 2000. After a lacklustre innings of four years his focus got centered on industrialization. So, during his second term his industrial pursuit nearly cantered ahead with about 48 MOUs signed within a short period.
It was a hope which he wanted to sow in the minds of the larger mass which, always, was in search of a man who can ensure them a future preserved with practical dividends. His rhetoric was brilliantly punctuated with hopes.
Though his reluctance towards extempore speeches often invited ridicule from purists but, his effective Oriya speeches, surprisingly, found a good audience and were later translated into vote banks. So, many of his developmental blue prints became inscrutable amidst the euphoria. Further, what was an added advantage for the chief minister was his in-frequent media interaction. The media in Orissa has ultimately been reduced to a sound-bite media, whom Naveen obliges in front of the Secretariat entrance as and when he deems fit.
But the rhetoric could not silence a section, comprised of activists and intellectuals, that appeared quite detached from the philosophy of progress through rapid industrialization and dubbed it as a good means towards wealth generation by a few. The slogan, in fact, got louder and during the early parts of 2008, it had crystalisation in the psyche of some, generating an air non-conducive to the populist propaganda of the government. Thus, the cynicism had its roots as the hiatus between words and the deeds became so explicitly visible.
More than one hundred people died within days due to cholera and malaria still remains to be a perennial feature in many parts of the state. These are the nagging indicators at a malaise beyond any remedy. Is it only the inherent inefficiencies of the state-run schemes or there is a fusion of cronyism and corruption hampering the fundamental rights of a state. In the backdrop of what we have in the name of education can be reflected through the staggering dropout rates (never mind what the official figures claim). The list can go on.
A series of alleged farmers` suicide failed to ruffle the feathers in the government. Rather a persistent effort was on to cover up any such reports using denials as the only tool towards self-aggrandizement. When the distress sale of paddy got revealed through the media, it was confronted by a hostile rebuttal from the concerned ministry. However, when the issue came up in the High Court, the government swallowed the shame with equanimity.
Further, no one was disturbed by the magnitude of the multi-crore mineral loot and the entire issue was treated with a generous under-play, both by the ruling side and the opposition. Reasons were all too familiar: an unholy alliance!
The moot question is: Where is that war against the corruption which Naveen Patnaik had waged from the very day he took charge of the state? Why this ambivalence towards corruption from a man who still enjoys a clean image and always appears in spot-less white?
Inner contradictions apart, the recent revelations on either flawed land acquisition process for Vedanta University or violation of environmental norms in Vedanta`s Lanjigarh project have compelling reasons for Naveen Patnaik to acknowledge the damaging consequences of corruption or cronyism being given a free reign by his foot-soldiers.