The rise of regional parties has strengthened democracy in India by giving voice to regional aspirations and helping decentralize power. This has led to improvement in the quality of governance. The growth of strong regional parties, with some of them seeking greater autonomy for the states where they are in power, is also indicative of the fact that governments at the Centre have failed to address longstanding state-specific issues.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who leads the most successful regional party in the history of Odisha, articulated similar feelings recently when he pointed to the limitations of national parties in dealing with the specific requirements of a state. Addressing the Biju Yuva Janata Dal working committee meeting in Bhubaneswar, he said that national parties were bound to compromise on the special needs of a state for gains in the larger national context.
The Chief Minister rightly pointed out that state leaders of national parties were almost invariably remote-controlled by their bosses in Delhi and, as such, were unlikely to protect the interests of the states they represent in the same manner as the regional parties. Unlike the national parties, Patnaik stated, the BJD did not have any boss in Delhi and it was answerable only to the 4.5 crore people of Odisha. He also asserted that the BJD stood for preserving and promoting the unique identity of Odisha.
The Chief Minister, who was critical of the national parties for making victory in elections and government formation at the Centre their sole objective, also referred to Odisha’s continuing battle for special category status. Pointing out that the state has been demanding this status to be better able to cope with the after-effects of the natural disasters it faces almost every year, Patnaik accused both Congress and BJP of paying only lip service to the cause. He asserted that the BJD, however, will continue to fight for the fulfilment of this demand and keep reminding national parties about their stepmotherly treatment of Odisha.
Referring to the state’s fight for justice on the Mahanadi water issue and its relentless campaign for classical status to Odissi music and inclusion of Kosali and Ho languages in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution, Patnaik also invoked Odia pride à la Biju Patnaik, his father and former chief minister who had attained legendary status in his life time. He spoke of the uniqueness of Odia language and the “unparalleled” art, culture and heritage of Odisha.
Asserting that only a regional party could do justice to the aspirations of the state’s youth and preserve its unique identity, Patnaik said mainstream regional parties would make Odisha a drop in their vast ocean. But Odisha, he asserted, was not a drop in the ocean; it was the ocean itself. No one could have articulated Odia pride better.