Monday, June 17, 2024

PM Modi In Attack Mode, Claims “Conspiracy” Over Naveen Patnaik’s Health

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (File).

New Delhi:

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik‘s “advanced age and health issues” remains a fertile source of jibes and jeers for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is wrestling the ruling Biju Janata Dal for control of the state’s 147-member Assembly and its 21 Lok Sabha seats.

Mr Modi, 73, on Wednesday claimed, without appearing to present evidence, a “conspiracy behind the sudden deterioration of Naveen Patnaik’s health”, and vowed to form a committee to inquire into the 77-year-old Chief Minister’s medical history.

At a rally in Odisha’s Baripada, the Prime Minister asked, “Is there a conspiracy behind the sudden deterioration of Naveen Patnaik’s health? Is the lobby currently running the Patnaik government on his behalf responsible for sudden deterioration of his health?”

“If the BJP forms the government in Odisha… it will constitute a committee to ascertain the reason behind the deterioration of Naveen Patnaik’s health,” the Prime Minister thundered.

Hours later Mr Patnaik responded with a jibe of his own, urging the Prime Minister to “pick up a telephone and ask me about my health”. “Let me assure the PM I am in perfect health… ” he declared.

“He (the Prime Minister) earlier said in public, ‘I am his good friend’. All he had to do then was pick up a phone and ask about my health. But BJP people from Odisha and Delhi are spreading rumours…”

The not-so-hidden target of Mr Modi’s allegation – also trumpeted by other BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma – is VK Pandian, a senior BJD leader from Tamil Nadu widely seen as the Chief Minister’s right-hand man, and who was seen trying to cover his boss’ shaking hands during a campaign speech.

Mr Pandian – who has played down talk he is a chief minister-in-waiting – has also been mocked by Amit Shah, whose party has thrown everything and the kitchen sink this election to win over voters in Tamil Nadu, where it has no traction, as a “Tamil babu”. 

READ | Naveen Patnaik Should Retire Due To “Advanced Age”: Amit Shah

“Naveen babu has made a Tamil officer ruler… Oust the BJD (and) we will give a young Odia-speaking Chief Minister… babus have looted the state…” Mr Shah declared last week.

“If BJP is voted to power a bhumiputra (son of the soil) will rule, not a Tamil babu.”

Mr Patnaik has rubbished the attacks. 

Last Friday he accused the BJP of spreading falsehoods and pointed out he has been campaigning, for the past month, across the state. “There is a limit to the lies the BJP can tell. As you can see… I am in very good health,” he told news agency ANI.

READ | “Am In Very Good Health”: Patnaik On “Advanced Age” Jabs

And on Tuesday, after the video of Mr Pandian covering his hand emerged, the BJD boss took the BJP to task for making “non-issues into issues”. “This will certainly not work.”

READ | “Won’t Work”: Patnaik Snuffs Out BJP “Discussion” On His Hands

The attacks by Mr Modi come as the BJP chucks its biggest weapons at the ruling BJD to claim a first-ever Assembly election win and win as many of its Lok Sabha seats as possible.

The BJP has never had a state government in Odisha; the state has usually flipped between the BJD and the Congress. Mr Patnaik has been the Chief Minister since March 2000. On the Lok Sabha front, the BJP is ploughing on – despite challenges from the Congress-led INDIA bloc – towards its goal of ‘abki baar, 400 paar’ and a third consecutive term at the centre.

In 2019 the BJD won 12 of 21 Lok Sabha seats – eight seats fewer than last time – and the BJP got eight. The saffron party also registered a thumping 16.9 per cent increase in vote share.

READ | VK Pandian Lists BJP ‘Self Goals’ That Will Help Naveen Patnaik

The attacks also appear to indicate the BJP is worried by Mr Pandian, perhaps more so than the Chief Minister himself, against whom they have levelled relatively standard claims of having failed to develop the state over the past 24 years.

With input from agencies

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