Come May 16 and the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will embark upon an orchestrated and high voltage political campaign to save the Mahanadi river. The campaign is to be flagged off by party president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
The campaign mongers will be split into two teams each taking off from a river bank in western Odisha. One team would start from Ambabhona in Bargarh district and the second from coal rich Lakhanpur in Jharsuguda. Both the rallies would culminate at Paradip.
Titled the ‘Mahanadi Suraksha Abhiyan’, the campaign will cover more than 1595 km along the river banks in 15 districts touched by the Mahanadi.
Even before the campaign begins, it has been riddled with political controversies. Both BJP and Congress have lampooned the ruling party for exploiting the Mahanadi river issue for petty vote bank gains. Opposition Chief Whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati has sneered at the campaign, saying, “The chief minister has held the water resources for most part of his reign. Will he answer how many barrages were constructed by his government? Or was his government sleeping? This is a futile campaign since more than 50 per cent of Mahanadi’s waters drains into the sea”.
BJP, too, has discounted the efficacy of the campaign. “This is undoubtedly an election issue by the BJD. They know western Odisha districts are their weak links and so are using the Mahanadi issue for political traction. But, they won’t get any tangible outcome from this campaign as the BJP is rooted to the problems and aspirations of the people”, said BJP’s Odisha unit president and Nuapada MLA Basant Panda.
But, BJD vice president Prasanna Acharya vehemently denied the allegations of the Opposition.
“As we have said earlier, Mahanadi has never been a political issue for the BJD. It’s the issue of 4.5 crore Odia people. The river is the lifeline of the state. People from all walks of society – farmers, students, youths, women and fishermen – will be participating in the campaign,” Acharya said.
During the campaign, the party would organize street corner meetings, workshops, awareness campaigns, distribute leaflets and make audio-visual presentation on the Mahanadi in every gram panchayat, block, sub-division and district headquarters.
The BJD’s MPs, MLAs and panchayat level representatives have been asked to spend nights camping at the villages. Some of the BJD leaders have either overtly or covertly agreed that Mahanadi would figure as the key election issue for the 2019 polls.
Another BJD vice president and former minister Debi Prasad Mishra accused the Central government and BJP ruled Chhattisgarh of throttling flow of Mahanadi river waters for the public of Odisha. “It’s a conspiracy to make the Mahanadi a dead river for us”, Mishra alleged.
Earlier, the Odisha government had dragged both the Union water resources ministry and the Chhattisgarh government to the Supreme Court for arm twisting on the Mahanadi river water sharing. The Odisha government earned a moral victory after the apex court ordered the formation of a tribunal to adjudicate on the river dispute between the riparian states.
At stake is the fate of people inhabiting 15 districts in Odisha. They depend upon Mahanadi for drinking water, irrigation, electricity generation and practically, all possible needs. By flagging the Mahanadi campaign, the BJD has played to their emotive concerns.
Congress gameplan on the Mahanadi imbroglio is yet to be known. And, as for the hobbled BJP, observers are still watching which card it plays to counter the BJD’s political shenanigans.