BJP raises Hindutva pitch in Puri, Kandhamal | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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BJP raises Hindutva pitch in Puri, Kandhamal

May 20, 2024 08:06 AM IST

In Puri and Kandhamal, the Ram temple issue is influencing the elections, with BJP emphasizing Hindu pride and BJD focusing on development and governance.

Puri/Kandhamal A student of political science at the Samanta Chandra Sekhar Autonomous College in Puri, Prakash Mohanty is not particularly interested in the ongoing Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

upporters gather during an election campaign by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Odisha. (Prahlad Mahato)
upporters gather during an election campaign by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Odisha. (Prahlad Mahato)

He knows a little about the parties in the fray and who the candidates are in Puri, but admitted he has not invested time to understand issues such as welfare politics, freebies or the other poll promises made by the parties. He broadly sees the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) as the party that has been in power for longer than his 19 years, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the party that went on to “construct the Ram Mandir”.

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“It is important for our Hindu pride that the temple was constructed. Some BJP people visited our locality and talked to us about the temple, and how we must all be part of the celebration (consecration ceremony),” he said. “We are happy that the temple was built.”

A little distance from the college, Vipin Nayak, who owns two rickshaws, spoke at length about the temple in Ayodhya that he hopes to visit. He watched the consecration ceremony in January on television and the sight he said filled “his heart with pride”. Nayak has two saffron flags adorning both his rickshaws that he bought on loan from a cooperative bank. He does not own a house and is hopeful he might become a beneficiary of the PM Awas Yojna.

“People from the kamal (lotus) party who came to our neighbourhood gave us these flags, and some rice for the pooja,” he said. “They explained why their party should win, because some people from outside want our faith and temples destroyed.”

Across Puri, the home of Lord Jagannath, the living deity and ruling lord of Odisha, saffron flags with Ram temple and Lord Ram flutter. In its attempt to break into the BJD’s bastion, the BJP has found in religion a potent weapon to dethrone it opponent. People in Odisha are by and large religious and issues of faith are part of the social fabric.

“Our cadre went door-to-door explaining the importance of the consecration. It was the realisation of a dream that Hindus have nurtured for 500 years, and a result of the BJP’s struggle to pave the way for the construction of the temple. If it becomes a reason for people to vote for us, then so be it,” a state functionary said, requesting anonymity.

In Puri, which draws pilgrims from across India and is considered as the spiritual capital of the state, the BJP is pulling out all the stops from the BJD trying to seek credit for the revamp of the Jagannath Corridor. The party’s candidate, Sambit Patra, who unsuccessfully contested the election in 2019, blamed the state government for “mismanagement.”

“They need to answer why are three of the four doors to the temple locked,” Patra said. “Why are devotees inconvenienced and why have they not addressed the concerns of the people whose livelihood has been affected by the redevelopment?”

Referring to the hawkers who claim that the corridor redevelopment has affected their work, Patra said, “I would not like to criticise any kind of developmental work, but remember, development also has to be keeping in view the people’s interest. We had a number of mutts and mandirs around the Jagannath temple, which were thousands of years old, and they also needed protection.”

To a question on whether the BJD wants to compare the redevelopment work with the campaign for the construction of the Ram temple, he said, “Lord Jagannath has existed for thousands of years. The temple was not built by any political party. He is the centre of every Odia person’s sentiment and in the centre of universe. So, to say that there is a comparison between the Ayodhya temple construction and Jagannath mandir renovation would be wrong.”

The temple has been dragged into the political slugfest between the two parties. Training their guns at the Naveen Patnaik government, BJP leaders have sought to know why the keys of the Ratna Bhandhar (temple treasury) are missing. “How can the government claim that the keys are missing? It was last indexed in 1979. The law says that every 12 years it has to be updated,” said Bhartruhri Mahtab, who has switched from the BJD to the BJP and is contesting from Cuttack LS seat.

The BJP’s opponents, however, sniff a bid to sow seeds of discord in the eastern state.

BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty accused the BJP of trying to create differences. “They are using the Ram temple as an election issue, but it will find no traction. While people have immovable faith in Lord Jagannath; they revere Lod Ram as well. Everyone saw the consecration ceremony on television, the state government announced half a day’s holiday,” Mohanty said. “What other proof do we need of being religious and respectful?”

BJD’s Lok Sabha candidate from Puri, Arup Patanaik, also dismissed the BJP’s accusations of mismanagement and said the allegations against the chief minister will not yield results. “They keep saying all kinds of things. He would rather cede space than indulge in name calling. He is compassionate and emphatic,” Patanaik said. “How else do you think he’s stayed for so long?”

In Kandhamal district’s Phulbani, the Ram temple has given the party an opening to gain a toehold to flag administrative and governance issues. Sadashiv (uses only one name), a contractual employee at the power distribution company, said the state government has failed to fulfil promises from regularising jobs to providing quality health care. The BJP workers who had come to his village with the invitation for the consecration of the Ram temple apprised youngsters like him about the benefits of central government schemes that they are losing out on and the deficiencies of the state government.

“Schemes are not implemented on the ground. There are no good educational institutions here. We don’t even have an ultrasound machine in the local hospital, ” he said.

BJP’s candidate from Kandhamal, Sukanta Panigrahi said the BJD has overlooked the needs of the people and turned a blind eye to conversion that are still happening. “The MP (Achyuta Samant) is the founder of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT). He has bought acres of land for educational institutions to be run by a trust, but we see nothing of it on the ground. The tribal people whose land has been acquired get neither quality education nor health care. There are no jobs, no industry, no cold storage and despite a region rich in millets, no help for agriculturists,” he said.

In the tribal-dominated seat, the issue of Ram temple and Hindu pride are as much a part of the poll narrative as the development agenda.

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