Phulbani: It was the same occasion 10 years ago when people across the State were celebrating Janmashtami, the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna with much fervours, in the remote tribal heartland of Kandhamal District a Hindu monk Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot dead along with four of his disciples, including a boy. The very next day, Kandhamal woke up to witness Odisha’s worst communal violence. Although the full truth about the murder of Laxmanananda remained elusive and remains elusive till today, agitating mobs angered by the Hindu fundamentalists went on a rampage in the streets of Kandhamal setting fire to many Christian settlements. Hundreds of people were killed, thousand were injured, thousands of homes were destroyed, and thousands of people were displaced. The situation went out of control due to the inhospitable terrain of the region. The impact of the Kandhamal riot was felt beyond the geographical boundaries of Odisha. The secular image of Odisha was tarnished before the global community. It was the biggest challenge before Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to restore peace and cultural harmony in Kandhamal and wipe out communal forces in the State once and for all.
“Every bone in my body is secular and I don’t think any of those bones have been damaged,” Naveen told the national media in the aftermath of Kandhamal riot. As a first step to prove it, Naveen snapped 11-year old ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2009 elections. Naveen strongly felt that the alliance in the state had to be broken because it became impossible for him to stay with the BJP after the Kandhamal riots which “horrified the entire world.” It was widely speculated that Naveen would bring more damage to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) after the collapse of the alliance.
At the time of the Kandhamal riots in 2008, the ruling government of Odisha, headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, was a coalition of the BJP and the BJD. In the 147-member state assembly the BJD-BJP combine had 93 members, 32 of whom are from the BJP. In the 2009 elections, the BJD retained power in Odisha with a more convincing majority wining 103 assembly seats and Naveen emerged as Chief Minister for his third consecutive term. On the contrary, the BJP won just 6 seats in 147-member assembly.
The results of the 2009 elections assumed greater significance in Odisha politics and especially in the riot-hit Kandhamal as people of the State had given a befitting reply to the communal forces and had expressed complete faith on Naveen’s leadership for cultural harmony and rapid economic development.
At present, the situation in Kandhamal is not same as it was few years ago. The cultural harmony between the two communities has been strengthened gradually with the active intervention of the government. The Naveen Patnaik government has taken slew of development initiatives to bring socio-economic development in the district, including setting up special-development council, relief and rehabilitation measures to the riot-affected people, setting up skill development centres and strengthening education, healthcare and agriculture sectors. His government has also made efforts to boost tourism and horticulture development of the region.
Today, the people across Kandhamal District are celebrating the auspicious Janmashtami festival in peace and tranquillity giving a strong message of communal harmony.