Lungi Politics Takes Center Stage in Odisha Elections

The row over Lungi started after Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik was seen urging people to vote for the BJD in Lok Sabha as well as the Odisha Assembly polls.
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Odisha’s political landscape is currently abuzz with discussions surrounding the humble lungi, as the state gears up for both its Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The unexpected focus on this traditional garment emerged following the circulation of a campaign video featuring Chief Minister Naveen Patanaik donning a lungi, a garment not commonly worn in public in Odisha. This sparked a series of responses from both the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), each leveraging the symbol in their own way.

During a press conference at the BJD headquarters, Sankha Bhawan, leaders Sasmit Patra and Swayam Prakash Mohapatra surprised attendees by sporting lungis instead of their usual attire of kurta pyjamas and pant-shirts. This unconventional sartorial choice marked the beginning of what is now being referred to as “lungi politics” in Odisha.

The genesis of this lungi-centric discourse can be traced back to a video featuring Chief Minister Naveen Patanaik addressing voters while clad in a lungi, accompanied by ‘joda sankhas’ (twin conch shells), symbols representing the BJD’s candidates in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

The visual spectacle of Patanaik in a lungi sparked a reaction from Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who criticized the Chief Minister’s attire during a campaign rally in Jharsuguda. Pradhan’s remarks, interpreted as a jab at Patanaik’s close aide VK Pandian, highlighted the significance of the lungi as a symbol of cultural identity and political influence in Odisha.

In response to Pradhan’s comments, the BJD chose to embrace the lungi, framing it as a symbol of Odisha’s handloom heritage and cultural pride. Leaders Sasmit Patra and Swayam Prakash emphasized the importance of the handloom sector in the state’s economy and condemned Pradhan’s remarks as derogatory towards Odisha’s cultural traditions.

The controversy surrounding the lungi extends beyond its symbolic value in politics. VK Pandian, a key figure in the BJD’s election campaign and a former bureaucrat, has been the subject of scrutiny regarding his influence in Odisha politics. Pandian’s rise within the BJD ranks has prompted accusations of being an “outsider” attempting to wield influence over the state’s affairs.

Despite these criticisms, Pandian’s role within the BJD remains significant, with his efforts focused on retaining power in the assembly and securing victory in the Lok Sabha polls. His association with Chief Minister Naveen Patanaik underscores his influence within the party and his pivotal role in driving its agenda.

As Odisha prepares for a pivotal electoral showdown, the lungi has emerged as a potent symbol, embodying the complexities of identity, culture, and political power in the state. In the midst of heated debates and campaign rhetoric, the significance of this seemingly innocuous garment transcends mere fashion, becoming a focal point in the broader narrative of Odisha’s political landscape.

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