BJD to Launch a Social Services Wing on Naveen Patnaik’s Birthday, Oppn Terms it 'Vote-catching Ploy'

Bhubaneswar: Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the regional party that has been in power in Odisha for the past 19 years, plans to start a social services wing on the occasion of party boss and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s birthday next week.

While a group of BJD leaders is busy putting together a framework for this new wing and quotes Patnaik as having said earlier that social work is his most favourite activity, the state’s Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have slammed the proposed initiative calling it a “vote-catching ploy” that would further intensify corruption.

Patnaik, who was sworn in as the coastal state’s chief minister for a record fifth term in May, is turning 73 on October 16. His ongoing term in office being widely considered his last, while the BJD and the government have been devising several innovative pro-people schemes apparently to ensure the party keeps winning elections for many more years.

BJP and Congress leaders are already likening the ruling party’s proposed social services wing to the controversial Biju Yuva Bahini (meaning Biju Youth Brigade), a controversial social services scheme of the government that was launched under the sports and youth affairs department in April 2018.

A provision of Rs 450.49 crore was made for BYB, named after Patnaik’s father and former CM Biju Patnaik, for three years. The scheme was widely criticized due to allegations that it was a ploy to lure Odisha’s youth into supporting and voting for the BJD.

But BJD leaders are convinced that despite the BYB already working at the government level, there is a need to start a social services wing to encourage party workers and supporters to carry out more extensive and productive social service activities.

“This proposed initiative is purely aimed at widening BJD’s voter base through allurements. It will prove financially as beneficial to the ruling BJD’s workers and supporters as the government’s prevailing Biju Yuva Bahini scheme. Public money would end up being distributed among unemployed men and women who are BJD supporters,” said senior Congress leader and MLA Suresh Routray.

Terming BYB as a “vote-buying scheme of the government” that was launched just a year before the 2019 simultaneous elections, Routray said: “Even God will not forgive Naveen Patnaik for the mindless way in which he has been using the funds collected from this poor state’s people”.

BJP general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan accused the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government of having “no real sincerity” for uplifting the condition of the state’s youth.

“The government has simply opened up its purses to ensure there is maximum corruption and that BJD’s supporters get richer. There was no need to start Biju Yuva Bahini with government funds. There was also no need to start the PEETHA scheme with government funds. Both these schemes are now lying inactive despite funding provisions,” said Harichandan.

But BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty denied that BYB and PEETHA have stopped operations.

“These programmes are continuing, but we will formally resume them shortly. The Opposition parties are busy predicting the futility of all pro-people schemes of the government. But the state’s people have been rejecting these parties in polls. We need the people’s certificates, not from the Opposition parties,” said Mohanty.

Citing the example of the Jeevan Bindu programme for blood donation, he said over 10 lakh people had joined the initiative and donated blood. Despite the “finicky and cynical attitude” of the Opposition parties, more than 23 lakh people had become member of Biju Yuva Bahini (BJB), he said.

BYB units were set up in nearly all the 6,798 panchayats and 120 urban local bodies of Odisha. A part of Naveen Patnaik’s erstwhile “3T programme” of technology, transparency and team work, the initiative aimed at nurturing leadership and volunteerism, promote sports and sportsmanship and healthy living among the state’s youth.

People aged between 15 and 35 years were enlisted as BYB members, a third of them being women. Former Mumbai Police commissioner Arup Patnaik, who joined BJD after retirement, was put in charge of BYB following his appointment as the executive chairman of Odisha State Youth Welfare Board.

BYB, which was mired in controversy, is believed to have helped BJD widen its support base among the youth and fare impressively in the last polls. Expenses incurred in implementing BYB’s programmes were questioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in September 2018.

Opposition MLAs had alleged that public funds meant for BYB were being spent to promote BJD’s interests instead of serving public purposes. Congress had even approached Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking an order to the state government to change the name ‘Biju Yuva Bahini’ as it appeared similar to Biju Yuba Janata Dal, the youth wing of BJD, so that voters were not confused.

The PEETHA (Peoples Empowerment – Enabling Transparency and Accountability of Odisha Initiatives) scheme was launched in December 2018 as a sub-scheme of the government’s ‘Ama Gaon Ama Bikash’ (our village, our development) programme, which had a budgetary provision of Rs 1,250 crore for 2018-19. PEETHA primarily aimed at spreading awareness about the government’s welfare schemes meant for the poor and ensuring immediate redressal of the people’s grievances.

Among the social services activities that BJD’s proposed social services wing would carry out are plantation, blood donation, environment protection and advocacy for prohibition, said the party’s leaders.

(With inputs from Mahesh Prasad Nanda)