Election Times

After two attacks, will Naveen rewrite the rules of political protest?

Best interview Based English Magazine Bhubaneswar Odisha

First, the January 31 incident at Talsari in Balasore district where a woman dared to pelt eggs at chief minister Naveen Patnaik while he was addressing a public gathering. And, in a space of three weeks, he faced yet another attack from a youth who flung shoes at him when Patnaik was campaigning for BJD candidate at Kumbhari in Bargarh district for the ensuing Bijepur by elections.

While the two unsavoury incidents in quick succession must have shocked the BJD supremo, it is also a telling commentary on the drooping standards of political protest. And, when a chief minister is shown to be vulnerable to such condemnable attacks, it also punches holes in the state’s law & order machinery. Patnaik’s party men- his MLAs, MPs and ministers have been victims of egg pelting on numerous occasions. In fact, BJD’s own workers and activists have not shied away from attacking their political opponents with eggs. But, when their undisputed leader is mauled in public, how demoralising could it be for the party cadre? Also, when a mob of irate BJP youth workers recently vandalised the official residence of V Karthikeyan Pandian, the chief minister’s private secretary, it showed even administrators can be targeted by the wayward. It’s easy for the ruling BJD to pass knee jerk reactions and heap the blame on BJP for the ugly designs. But will the ruling party invest time on introspection to change the rules of the game? Given Patnaik’s squeaky clean image, zero tolerance for indiscipline and penchant for fair conduct, the stakes are more for his BJD than the Opposition.

A party leader recalls how a livid Patnaik summoned two block level leaders from his constituency in Ganjam after being upset with the turn of events during a poll campaign. The BJD leaders had pelted eggs on their rival candidates and this was so distasteful for the party boss. Patnaik gave them a thorough dressing down on the incident. He said such incidents would not be tolerated in the future and the doors of Naveen Niwas would be slammed on any BJD leader who chooses such undemocratic protest.

Now, the time is most opportune for Patnaik to walk the talk. When chief ministers, Union ministers and MPs are repeatedly attacked by egg pelting, it only goes on to show the rising political intolerance amongst parties. The incidents are also pointers to the sagging law & order standards. Hoodlums or hooliganism has no room in any democracy- neither in the ruling party nor the Opposition. Egg pelting or stone pelting- both are deplorable and unacceptable in a democratic set up. Odisha’s chief minister is known for his reluctance to vendetta politics and mudslinging. Let him rewrite the rules of democratic protest. This political rectitude has to blossom in the BJD first.

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