The ‘official’ website lists its goals as promoting ‘leadership, volunteerism and a healthy lifestyle through sports and social interventions’. But, based on the evidence on the ground across Odisha, the Biju Yuva Vahini (BYV) has been dubbed a ‘rogue army’ of youth created by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with the 2019 election in mind.
Odisha saw an example of the BYV’s so-called ‘social intervention’ when Kharavela Swain, three-time former BJP MP from Balasore and president of the Utkal Bharat party and his supporters were assaulted by three youths while addressing a gathering at Kashipur in Rayagada district on November 25. Swain said his attackers were known BJD workers, while BJP general secretary Bhrugu Buxipatra linked them to the BYV, the nearly 3 lakh-strong ‘volunteer’ force created at the expense of the state exchequer by the Naveen Patnaik government in March 2018.
The BJD was quick to deny the charge, but tell-tale evidence emerged soon—pictures showing the culprits with senior BJD leaders swamped social media. “The meeting was being beamed live on Facebook, which proved they were affiliated to the BJD and had pounced on me for speaking against their leader,” Swain tells Outlook. “Two of the three assailants, Sumanta Nayak and Krushna Nayak, have drawn their stipend as ‘volunteers’ of BYV last month. But after the video became public, their names have been erased from records,” Buxipatra alleges.
Former Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik, who heads the outfit, was himself embroiled in a controversy when he allegedly manhandled the Bhubaneswar-based reporter of a leading English daily recently. The journalist confirms to Outlook that the incident did take place.
It is not as if BYV members only target Naveen and BJD baiters; they fight among themselves too. On November 9, two BYV groups, divided over their loyalty to rival local leaders of the BJD, clashed at Padmapur in Bhadrak and Raghunathpur in Jagatsinghpur districts. Critics say the BYV was created as a ‘dedicated force’ that would take on the growing tribe of opposition and former BJD leaders who are speaking out against the government and party supremo, Naveen.
Senior journalist Rajaram Satpathy believes Naveen is trying to ‘kill two birds’ with one stone. “First, it attempts to assuage youth’s anger over lack of employment by handing out doles. Second, he is trying to harvest this anger for political use during the coming polls,” he says.
Accused with BJD leaders
Over the past year, several opposition leaders critical of the BJD government have been assaulted. The attack on Swain was the third such in a month, while expelled BJD leader Damodar Rout was heckled at a rally in Baripada on October 21 and had eggs thrown at him by BJD workers at Niali on October 25. At the height of his fight with the party leadership in April 2017, former Kendrapara MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda was attacked with eggs and stones by workers of his own party (he quit the BJD in June this year) in Mahanga. It was a precursor of what followed with other critics of Naveen.
With 2.92 lakh members across all 314 blocks and 114 urban local bodies, the BYV is a sizeable youth army. The government would spend Rs 450 crore on it over the next three years, with Rs 1.5 lakh earmarked for each Vahini, sports and youth affairs minister Chandra Sarathi Behera informed the assembly in April.
The scheme has invited the unfavourable attention of the Comptroller General of India. After the state government expressed its inability to cooperate with the CAG for an audit of its expenses, CAG deputy accountant-general Jyoti Chaurasia pointedly wrote to the sports and youth affairs department, the scheme’s nodal agency: “As your department has expressed inability to cooperate with audit…till after the Hockey World Cup, we would assume that the department would not be able to give appropriate attention for implementation of the scheme for the period.” It was a caustic signal to stop spending on the scheme till the audit is completed. It’s unlikely that Naveen would heed it.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar