In his first public rally in Odisha in five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday lashed out at the Congress for “neglecting and insulting Odisha”, but remained silent over the 24-year rule of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

It is another matter that the Odisha BJP leaders have been urging people to usher in change in the state in the upcoming simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The BJP is the principal Opposition in the state.

PM Modi addressed the rally immediately after he and CM Patnaik shared a stage on a different occasion — the inauguration of the Sambalpur campus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), where the PM hailed the BJD supremo as “his friend”. Patnaik also lauded Modi, saying: “The PM has set a new direction for India and we are on the path to becoming an economic power house.”

Modi, who later addressed the public meeting organised by the state BJP at Remed in Sambalpur, made his “guarantee” pitch and listed his government’s contribution to Odisha in different fields. He also drew a comparison between the Centre’s contribution to the state before 2014 and in the past 10 years under his rule.

PM Modi had last addressed a public rally in the state at Kendrapada on April 23, 2019, before the fourth phase of polling for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where he had targeted Patnaik over violence against BJP workers, comparing Odisha with neighbouring Bengal.

Festive offer

He had then charged that “Bengal-type violence” had been used in Odisha against his party’s cadre, and that administrative officers had ignored it. “Naveen Babu, you are going, it’s decided. These handful of officers cannot save you,” he had then said.

Months before, while addressing a rally at Jharsuguda on September 22, 2018, PM Modi had attacked the Patnaik government over alleged corruption. “Without bribes and corruption, it’s not possible to get work done in Odisha,” Modi had then alleged.

Even Union Home Minister Amit Shah had dubbed Patnaik as a “burnt transformer” before the 2019 polls, and called the people to oust the BJD government.

It all changed after 2019 polls, when the BJD extended support to the Modi government inside and outside Parliament on numerous issues, including the passage of key legislation and the Presidential election. In return, it earned praise from the PM in Parliament in February 2022 over the mining sector’s “reforms”.

Likewise, Amit Shah, during his visit to Odisha in August last year, hailed Patnaik as a “popular CM” and lauded his steps in disaster management and containing of the “Maoist menace”. A month later, Patnaik gave PM Modi a ranking of 8/10 for his foreign policies and steps taken to fight corruption.

Modi’s Sambalpur speech Saturday was keenly watched by the state BJP leaders, as it was expected to set the tone for the party’s campaign in Odisha for the 2024 polls due in the next two months.

Pointing out that Modi’s attack on the BJD government would have boosted the morale of the state BJP cadre ahead of the polls, a senior BJP leader admitted that Patnaik has “close ties” with the party high command. He, however, ruled out speculation about any pre-poll alliance between the two parties.

Underlining the BJP’s contributions in Odisha, Modi said it is the BJP that had made a tribal daughter of the state (Droupadi Murmu) the President of India, and targeted the Congress and its allies for opposing her candidature.

“When she (President Murmu) addressed Parliament three days back, the entire world listened to her every word. My dear brothers and sisters, you should remember that it’s the Congress and its allies that had used all their might against Droupadi Murmu,” said Modi.

Wo Droupadi ji ka apaman nahi… Samagra desh ka Adivasi samaj ka apaman hai… Ye mere pyare Odisha ka bhi apaman hai… (It wasn’t only an insult to Droupadi ji, but also an insult to India’s entire tribal community and to Odisha),” said Modi, while projecting his government’s push for tribal welfare.

He said Odisha had to worry for its dues when there was “Congress ka raj” (Congress rule) in Delhi, and assured that there will be no dearth of money for Odisha’s development under the BJP’s rule.

Claiming that he visits Odisha with a resolution to accelerate the state’s development, he reminded people of visits by Congress leaders before 2014 in an apparent dig at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi — who had visited Kalahandi to support the Dongria Kondh tribe in their fight against the bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills.

“These people used to visit Kalahandi to be photographed in tribal hamlets, which would be shown on TV and in newspapers, projecting a poverty-stricken image of Odisha,” said Modi, accusing the Congress of having made the bids to deprive Odisha of development.

Hitting out at the Congress for “corruption”, Modi alleged that before 2014, corruption was bigger than the Budget. He said India’s youth were disappointed before 2014, as their future was in the dark, while the youth of today are confident because of the “imandaar aur majboot (honest and strong)” BJP government.

Highlighting his government’s decision to confer the Bharat Ratna on former Deputy PM L K Advani, PM Modi hailed the BJP stalwart’s contribution to popularising nationalist ideology in the country besides opposing dynasty politics.

By 111 Tech

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