Orissa has become a land of contradictions. It draws national and even international attention for wrong reasons – floods, cyclones, hunger, and recently, the bloody violence in Kandhamal, and the conflicts with mining industries like Tata, Posco, and Vedanta. Once one of the most peaceful and harmonious states in India, Orissa is now almost a boiling cauldron of violent conflicts, Maoists ‘insurgencies- the daylight attack one police station 30 km away from the capital city of Bhubaneswar was high point of Maoism. The mineral rich state has now the dubious distinction of being the poorest in the country. Almost half of the population (48 per cent) lives in absolute poverty, and by international standard of poverty, the percentage is even much higher. So what ails Orissa and why Orissa is poor are questions that are bothering researchers, commentators, policy makers, and development watchers. Before we identify the reasons and ponder over solutions to address them, it s in order that we delve into the contradictions in the three major sectors. Political Situation Orissa has been quite innovative and progressive in its political evolution since its demarcation from the Bengal province in 1936. In the ancient times, Orissa had extended its political frontiers far into north and south f India and derived its strength and wealth from its extended political territory. In the valiant battle foaling, “King Asoka won the battle but lost the war” as he gave up his aggression forever, became Buddhist and undertook the mission of spreading the message of peace in the world. Thus, Orissa decametre instrument for spread of Buddhism. Even in the British period, Orissa had a proud record of ignitingBritish imperialism. The name of its indomitable hero Vir Surendra Sai rings loud bells in the history of freedom movement. He was the one who took the espy mutiny up to 1864with his fighting actins. In modern times, Orissa was the first state to go for decentralization and introduced the three-tier Panchayati Raj System for rural government; it’s probably the only state in the country that has fourth evil of governance – “the Palli Sabha” or “ward Parliament”. Orissa boasts of a multicultural democracy entered on the “Jagannath Cult”. Despite these strong attributes Orissa suffers from deficit of a strong political leadership that could deliver. The six decades of independence and ten five-year-plans have brought only marginal improvement in the lives of people of Orissa. Even recent growth in Indian economy has not reached a large section of the population of Orissa. About 23 percent of Orissa’s population is tribal consisting of 62 different categories of tribes who are absolutely out of the decision taking process. The political parties are not strong enough to secure Orissa’s legitimate dues from the enthral government. For a full year in the first UPA government, nearly 40 million people
Of Orissa went without a Minister in the Central government; all its neighboring states had up to nine Ministers. This speaks volumes of the calibre of Orissa politicians to represent the state in the centre. The current ruling BJD has had a smooth run in the state clinging on to power, the Congress has been suffering from image deficit and crisis of leadership. The senior heavy weight leader J.B. Patnaik has been shifted out of the state and no new leader has been recognized as his successor. In fact, the state resident is yet tube nominated by the Congress high command. All other so-called national parties in he ate have their bases in Orissa which are marginal. Economic Conditions Orissa is one of the richest attain India in its natural resources -mineral deposits, forests, wild animals and aquatic population; but its people are the poorest. Orissa’s minerals have been exploited by Indian and foreign companies or decades now and these businesses have flourished but they have brought no returns for the State. The fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India provides certain privileges and entitlements to places dominated by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but in Orissa the tribes have almost no say in the local resource management. They are deliberately removed from their natural settings to other places to facilitate mining activities. The Forest Rights Act (FRA)which legitimizes the occupation of land by the tribal’s as their abode has been opposed in Orissa by the retired foresters’ association and the historic Act in favour of tribal’s has been stalled as there were nine other petitions filed against the FRA following the one in Orissa. In the last few years, many private investors, both Indian and foreign, have come forward to set up steel mills, aluminium plants and power stations. According to the figures available, Orissa government had received investment proposal of four hundred thousand crore and the government was said to have signed several MOUs. The Orissa’s poet Mayadhar Man Singh had aid “Orissa dreams in stone” as Orissa sculptures are highly creative, for example the famous Sun temple of Konark. Now the modern Orissa dreams steel and aluminium. Again the contradiction: the major mining projects are stalled by fierce resistance from the people. The South Korean company Posco is in a stalemate; Vadanta is busy fighting in the court or in circumventing the legal procedures causing stiff resistance by the tribal’s around Niyamgiri hills; Tata is yet to start work in Kalinga Nagar after the unfortunate killing of 12 people during its ‘bhoomi pujan’. About 46MOUs have been signed between the government and the industries, but the opposition from the people has slowed down the implementation. The Social Milieu Orissa is known for its communal harmony and social peace; recently it has witnessed violence and bloodshed in the state, mainly in Kandhamal although and hmal conundrum is quite complicated, not a clear divide on ethnic or religious lines, it did assume communal colours and sullied the history and reputation of Oriyas having a cosmopolitan culture. If we keep into the history of Orissa, we would find that the practice of secularism was embedded in the cultural and religious tradition of Orissa predating proclamation of Indian state as secular democracy in 1950. In Orissa 95 percent of Hindus observe kind of Hinduism which is unique, which is built around the Jagannath culture. Its uniqueness has two dimensions: One, the spirit of cosmopolitanism is evident in lord Jagannath, Balbhadhra and Subhadhra representing three races of mankind – black/negro, white/Caucasian, yellow/oriental – the greatest devotee of Lord Jagannath was Salabega, the son of a Muslim Subedar whose poems are household items in any devotional activity. Second, Subhadra is worshipped in place or Radha along with her brothers, and the famous car festivals celebrated to pacify Subhadra by her brothers: Subhadra had walked out of the main temple as a protest against women being barred from entering the main temple. The legend has it, that both the brothers go in the chariot to bring her back and the chariot is pulled by people of all religions. The other example of Orissa’s cultural harmony is that the greatest personality of modern Orissa was Madhusudan Das who was a Christian. Here are several other traditions of celebration by people offal religions. So Kandhamal is politicization of Orissa’s culture not an eruption of a communal divide. Orissa has probably the highest number of civil society institutions but their vision is poor, and the organizations are weak. Their leadership lacks ideological coherence and is largely uninformed. As they are small in size, they make slender impact. Bringing them together has been a huge effort without any success. After the super cyclone, some of the organizations got blacklisted for inefficiency and misappropriation. Unlike after Tsunami or earthquake in Bhuj, the post-super cyclone operation was badly managed by the government and the development organizations, although support for relief and rehabilitation poured in from across the world. The sight of relief trucks parked without any instruction to move was pathetic. He us pension order of the relief commissioner by the CM could not even be served on him. State Business and Civil Society How does one explain this contradiction? One could possibly do so by reviewing the functions of three major players in the state like anywhere else: state, market and the civil society. The state is burdened with huge and widespread poverty and is grappling with Naxal problem in most tribal districts. It is trying to push economic growth through industrialization and trading its minerals, but is noble to hasten the process in the face of stiff resistance against displacement. The business sector is looking for quick bucks by piggybacking on the government. There has been no genuine attempt by hem dialogue with the people who are displaced in the process of industrialization. The acquisition of land as been quite controversial in Orissa. Even an indigenous company like Tata which has been operating n other parts Orissa for long time, has used coercive tactics with the tribal’s instead of an open dialogue. N essential interface between the state, civil societies, and business is in the state. Therefore the contradiction is: while Orissa haste need and opportunities for investment with substantial mineral reserves, investment is stalled and the investors are locked in conflict with the landowners abetted by campaign groups and other vested interests. The Way Out The need of the hour in Orissa is to attack its chronic poverty in all its dimensions. Once absolute poverty, the type of which was seen in Kalahandi in mid-1980s, is alleviated, it will reduce the social tensions and dissuade people from resorting to violent means. But the progress of the state including absolute poverty alleviation will depend upon the income it generates and the development policy it will follow. Let me assent add that whatever be the development policy, industrial investment will inevitably play inessential part. People will like to argue that one can develop without mining and industries, and take energy path in the interest of sustainable development and so on. But that is a subject of another debate. The problem in Orissa is likely to escalate with more than45 MOUs signed for investment. So, the current state of the affairs in Orissa calls for urgent and fresh initiatives to end the impasse in investment, growth and development which will then positively impact the politics, society and economy. One has to create a climate that induces investment through creative mechanisms in the interests of everyone, including the government, landowners, industrialists, the people seeking opportunities for greater livelihood, and many other stakeholders amongst the people of Orissa.
D. K. Giri