Sabita Bhola and her family have been homeless for nearly a month since Cyclone Fani damaged their house in Puri district of Odisha. The 29-year-old said the government has not given them anything except ₹2,000 and 50kg of rice, though she had expected financial help to rebuild their house. She hopes the situation will improve before the monsoon sets in by mid-June.
Bhola is just one among tens of thousands who have lost their houses, farms and domestic animals when the cyclone hit costal Odisha on 3 May. Mitigating their suffering is the first challenge for Naveen Patnaik, who is set to take oath as chief minister of the state for the fifth consecutive term, negating 19 years of anti-incumbency and the campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Before the rainy season, we want to build our house. Naveen babu should solve our problem quickly," her brother in-law Biranchi Bhola said, standing outside their damaged thatched house in Nimapada block of Puri. The district has over 150,000 broken houses among tens of thousands across Odisha.
Patnaik, who heads the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), had announced compensation of ₹95,100 for every totally damaged house but the money was not released as the elections were on.
On Sunday, as BJD MLAs selected Patnaik as their legislative party leader, he was brief but focused in his thanks-giving. “I am very grateful to the MLAs for unanimously electing me as the BJD legislature party leader. We will work hard for the state’s development," Patnaik said.
“Our government has taken up a lot of social welfare schemes and we shall make sure that people do not suffer because of the cyclone. But yes, looking at the destruction, it’s a tough time for people and the government," said Rana Pratap Patra, president of the BJD’s students wing, the Biju Chhatra Janata Dal.
The state is struggling to revive power and telecom services in Bhubaneswar and rural Odisha, the Bhubaneswar airport is far from normal, the green cover in most affected districts is down by half and thousands of schools, colleges and hospitals are damaged. All this will need Patnaik’s urgent attention. However, cyclone relief may be the first task for Patnaik but not the only one. “In 2019, Patnaik faces a triple challenge—Cyclone Fani, jobs, and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)," said Gyan Ranjan Swain, a political analyst in Cuttack.
BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab had said last month that jobs is a key issue and his party is sincere about addressing it. Mahtab, who won the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat, has said that the state is focusing on developing textile and apparel factories to address the problem.
“The BJP all through its campaign told people how Patnaik’s industrial policy is a failure and people are migrating because of lack of jobs. People now are talking about it in both cities and villages and won’t allow the BJD to sleep in peace," said Jatin Mohanty, secretary of the BJP’s state unit.
“Administratively, Patnaik’s hand is full with challenges, while politically, the BJD knows the BJP has emerged as an alternative in Odisha. The BJP’s victory in eight Lok Sabha seats and 23 assembly seats signifies that people have accepted us. Some of our loses are with a thin margin and indicate that the fight is not over," he said.
In the just-concluded simultaneous polls, the BJD won 112 of the 146 seats. Voting in one assembly seat is yet to take place because of the death of a candidate and subsequently because of Cyclone Fani. Of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the BJD won 12, down from 20 in 2014. The Congress won one Lok Sabha seat, while the BJP has bagged eight.