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Odisha: Is Naveen Patnaik Risking his Political Career by Pushing Heritage Corridor Project?

DN Singh |
Even as the Puri Shankaracharya has expressed apprehensions, the BJD supremo says he is returning the “trust” people have reposed in him


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It is perhaps for the first time that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has taken a strong stance to silence his critics. The issue concerns the building of an ambitious Heritage Corridor around the ancient Puri Temple.

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Known more for maintaining a polite persona even with his worst political rivals, the fifth time Odisha Chief Minister has taken a risk that, many people believe, may finish off his long political career, by pushing the Puri Temple Heritage Corridor project.

A day ahead of the grand inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Temple, the state was abuzz with both projects – Ayodhya and Puri.

At an event, Patnaik was quoted by his close aide V K Pandian, the bureaucrat-turned-Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader, that the Chief Minister had said that even if the Heritage Corridor project meant the end of his two- decades-long political career, “so be it.”

The project was inaugurated on January 17, yet a leader like Naveen Patnaik sounding his fear about his political career is something unheard of in the state.

Playing out his version in an emotive note, Pandian also said that the project was something that “connected the emotions of an untold number of people’, which is why Patnaik can no longer retreat.

What had made many rethink their stance on this project was when the Seer of Puri, Swami Nishchalanand Saraswati, almost blasted such a concept, saying that it would ruin many things.

At the initial stage, the Puri Seer had said about the proposed project, that, “We support development but we are not in favour of elimination of existence of pilgrim sites in the name of development. Mutts are being demolished in the name of widening of roads which is not acceptable”. 

The Puri Seer even scoffed at the ease with which idols of deities were being evicted, and had predicted that such steps would simply invite the wrath of deities for which “people would bear the consequences.”

This was the first time that the Swami had taken up cudgels against the Chief Minister and all those who matter the most in the Heritage Corridor project. 

While appreciating the cleaning around the shrine, the Puri Seer also said that a space of pilgrimage cannot be turned into a 'picnic' spot.   

Incidentally, the Shankaracharya skipped the inauguration of the project on January 17, reportedly due to his prior commitments in West Bengal, but many people on the ground have raised eyebrows over the Seer’s absence. 

Without taking any pot-shots at the Seer directly, Naveen Patnaik chose to defend himself, saying, as quoted by Pandian, that “If I can’t do this for the people who reposed so much trust in me, history will judge me very wrongly.”

However, this slugfest has no signs of dying down so easily in the state.

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