In the heart of Odisha’s mining belt in Keonjhar district, a ‘court proceeding’ last week indicted the BJD’s 19-year-rule in the state. The decision of the ‘judge’ was for the BJD to be “dethroned” from Odisha.
From February 11 to 17, as part of a ‘Jan Adalat’ campaign against the BJD, the BJP took-off of a TV show to hold “political courtrooms” in all the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies of Odisha. The “failures” of the state government were highlighted, with the BJP using technology and theatre to make its case.
In 2014, in the midst of the Modi wave, the BJD had won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Since then, the BJP has been sending Central leaders and pouring energy and resources into wooing Odisha, as one of the states where it can make up numbers from in the coming elections. The BJP’s hopes have been buoyed with its second place finish in the 2017 panchayat elections, ahead of the Congress.
For the Jan Adalat campaign, each venue had a stage with the red brick Odisha High Court building forming the backdrop, carrying a prominent photo of President Ram Nath Kovind. A ‘judge’s’ bench, with the BJP logo, was placed in the centre while the dock featured a paper cut-out of a man in green, the colour of the BJD flag. The dock also carried the picture of a conch shell, the BJD’s party symbol.
At the Keonjhar ‘courtroom’, which also featured the photos of Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, a local BJP leader stood in the witness box taking on the BJD cutout. “Our mining areas have Andhra truck drivers, Bengali hoteliers, but only Odiya labourers. A big miner from South India has captured Keonjhar’s wealth,” he said, in an apparent reference to B Prabhakaran, a powerful mining contractor of the area.
Another leader asked of the paper cutout, “What does the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (Odisha’s health assurance scheme) mean when Keonjhar’s hospitals have no X-Ray, ECG, dialysis and trauma centre facilities?”
The moderator of the Keonjhar programme was famous Odiya actor Mihir Das, who recently joined the BJP. “Can one expect a CM who does not speak Odiya language (a charge levelled against Naveen Patnaik) to understand the problems of Odiya people?” he asked of the audience.
Before the ‘court proceedings’, audiences were shown short films on screens set up on either side of the stage, where locals complained about the lack of schools and hospitals.
The Jan Adalat campaign ended in Bhubaneswar, where Pradhan said, “From protecting culture to improving the economy, healthcare, education, women’s security and agriculture, this government has been a disaster.”
Dismissing the Jan Adalats, BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra said they were little more than “Jumla Adalats”. “Audiences were not allowed to question why the BJP did not deliver on 10 crore jobs or on Rs 15 lakh in each bank account.”