A good Samaritan

Print edition : May 20, 2022

Time and again, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has stepped in to help vulnerable sections with timely, off-beat interventions. A recent example is the helping hand he extended to the Missionaries of Charity.

In January 2022, the Union Home Ministry under Amit Shah blocked the Catholic religious order and philanthropic organisation founded by Mother Teresa from accessing foreign donations on the pretext that it did not fulfil the eligibility conditions under Indian laws. Incidentally, the organisation’s records show that it had consistently met the eligibility clauses on this count for over 70 years.

Whatever the merits of the Home Ministry’s order, the widely acknowledged humanitarian activities of the Missionaries of Charity were in danger of being severely constrained by it. Naveen Patnaik stepped in to announce that the activities of the Missionaries of Charity would continue in Odisha. The announcement from his office said it would give Rs.78.76 lakh from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund to 13 institutions run by the charity in Odisha. These institutions run several leprosy homes and orphanages. Additionally, Patnaik instructed all district collectors to ensure that adequate funds reached these 13 institutions and also that no one in these organisations should suffer, especially in terms of food insecurity or health-related distress.

At the political level, the move signalled disapproval of the sectarian policies followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi at the Centre. Incidentally, the BJP and BJD were in alliance during the Chief Minister’s first two terms between 2000 and 2009. But relations had soured by 2007 when front organisations of the Sangh Parivar unleashed anti-Christian communal violence in different parts of the State. The not-so-concealed objective was to convert Odisha into a second Hindutva laboratory after Gujarat, which was then under Modi’s chief ministership. While breaking away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Patnaik roundly castigated the BJP’s sectarian politics.

Since 2007, the BJD has been charting a political path divergent from that of the country’s two big mainstream parties, the BJP and the Congress. In 2007, the Congress was not only the principal opposition to the BJD in Odisha but also the leader of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre. In the following years, too, the BJD had to adjust with Union governments run by political parties with divergent political ideologies, governance perspectives and administrative outlook. Yet, the Chief Minister and the BJD were able to keep the State’s development track on a notably positive course.