Thursday, June 8, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomePoliticsThere's no place for BJP's Hindutva agenda in Odisha's temple cities of...

There’s no place for BJP’s Hindutva agenda in Odisha’s temple cities of Bhubaneswar & Puri

Unlike large parts of the country, BJP candidates in Bhubaneswar and Puri are focussing on 'sabka saath, sabka vikas' to challenge the ruling BJD.

Text Size:

Bhubaneswar/Puri: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised the Hindutva pitch throughout large parts of the country in this Lok Sabha election campaign. But in the temple cities of Bhubaneswar and Puri in Odisha, which vote in the third phase on 23 April, the party’s main plank has failed to gain any traction among voters.

The BJP candidates in these cities — Aparajita Sarangi in Bhubaneshwar and Sambit Patra in Puri — are steering away from any talk on Hindutva. Instead, they insist their campaign is built upon ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas‘ (development for all), which was the BJP’s mantra in 2014.

BJP candidates’ strategy

Sarangi, Bhubaneswar’s former municipal commissioner and a well-known face in the area, is taking on the ruling Biju Janata Dal’s Arup Patnaik, the former commissioner of the Mumbai Police. Locals say she holds an advantage in the race.

“People have seen her work on the ground, unlike Patnaik. As of now, she appears to have an edge,” said Santosh Kumar Samantaray, a resident of Khurda in the constituency.

On the sidelines of a public meeting in Bhubaneswar’s Jatani assembly segment, Sarangi told ThePrint that her focus was on local development.

“I am basically focussed on local issues like slum development, drainage and sewerage, civic amenities not being looked after. There are hundreds of issues that residents are battling here day in and day out. They have to be looked into along with corruption and unemployment.”

Meanwhile, in Puri, BJP spokesperson Patra is facing a tough contest in the form of three-time BJD MP Pinaki Misra.

Patra, who has been using Hindu symbolism but not its Hindutva variant, insisted that the BJP is not playing the religion card in Odisha. “Sabka saath, sabka vikas is our mantra. And the only card that needs to be taken forward is the card of development. That’s what we are doing,” he said.

However, locals, including academics and political analysts, say it is not that the BJP has not tried to play the Hindutva card here. It has just not succeeded.

‘Jagannath culture is inclusive’

Puri is home to the famous Jagannath Temple, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. Recently, a police complaint was filed against Patra for using Lord Jagannath’s name on his election campaign vehicle.

Locals say the inclusive ‘Jagannath’ culture is precisely why the BJP’s Hindutva card hasn’t worked. “It’s a very inclusive culture, despite the fact that only Hindus are allowed inside the temple,” said noted historian Pritish Chandra Acharya.

Acharya pointed out that one of Lord Jagannath’s most prominent disciples was the Muslim-born 17th-century religious poet Salabeg. “Even today, no Jagannath bhajan (hymn) is complete without Salabeg’s poems praising him. This in itself is a victory for inclusive culture,” he said.

A second key reason is that Muslims make up just 2.1 per cent of the total population of Odisha, as compared to 93.6 per cent Hindus. “By and large, Muslims are poor here. Most of them pull carts or do small labour. They are not perceived as a threat  economically or otherwise,” said Asha Hans, former professor of political science at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar.

Hans also said Odia culture was very diverse. “The Jagannath cult is more of a people’s religion rather than an extremist one. Also, we have a very strong civil society here, which is openly supportive of Muslims and their culture,” she said.

Also read: Modi’s tightrope walk in Odisha — slam state govt, but not Naveen Patnaik

Communal past

It is not as though Odisha does not have a communal past. The most prominent communal incidents in the state were the 2008 Kandhamal riots and the 1999 burning of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two pre-teen sons by Bajrang Dal activists.

“Kandhamal was not a Hindu-Muslim affair, but involved tribals and Christians. There is lot of pressure on the government not to allow such flare-ups to happen again,” Acharya said.

Former Odisha chief secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra said: “The government had come under flak after the Kandhamal riots in 2008, but the situation was brought under control quickly.”

Mohapatra added that the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal, which has been in power for the last 19 years, has done nothing to “offend” Hindus, which is why the BJP’s Hindutva plank has had no effect.

“No attempt was made to polarise any community. In Odia consciousness as a whole, cultural nationalism around religion does not work,” Mohapatra said.

Bread-and-butter issues matter

Ask sevayats (attendants) at the Jagannath Temple, and they rattle off a list of bread-and-butter issues that they have against Patnaik’s government. But Hindutva is not one of them.

“In the name of discipline, the BJD government has hit at our livelihood. They have come up with rules to streamline the hundreds of devotees who visit the temple every day. They are against us taking too many pilgrims inside and earning money in the process,” said Jyotiprakash, a panda (priest) at the temple.

Somnath Khuntia, a representative of the pandas at the temple, said they don’t get anything from the government except Rs 500 per day when it’s their turn to conduct the service. “There are 12,000 pandas in the temple. In any given month, our turn comes twice or thrice. How do we make do with such meagre money?” he asked.

Khuntia said he had joined the BJP as he wanted change. He is peeved that the administrative control over the temple is with the state government, which does not consult the Sankaracharya on any matter related to the temple.

Some of the pandas did say they would vote for Modi, but that is because they want a change, and not because the BJP is a Hindu party. “We are a very secular society and treat everyone equally,” said Batto Krishna Pradhani.

Effect on Muslims and tribals

Acharya said that the BJP’s larger Hindutva discourse was having an effect  not on the state’s Hindus, but on the Muslims and tribals.

“There is an undercurrent (of Hindutva). It might not have any apparent reflection this time, but in the long run, it can prove dangerous. A sense of insecurity has started growing among the tribals and Muslims in the state,” he said.

Hans agreed: “Extremism is not well-entrenched in Odisha, though in the last two years, especially after the lynching incidents that elsewhere in the country, a sense of fear has crept in among the Muslims here also. It’s not very pronounced, but it’s there.”

Also read: Sadhvi Pragya’s nomination is no advertisement for Hindutva, whatever you may think of it


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. आप के हिंदी लेख को अंग्रेजी में पढ़ने की सुविधा मिलती है

    लेकिन अंग्रेजी लेख को हिंदी में पढ़ने की सुविधा नहीं है।

Comments are closed.

Most Popular