Can Naveen Keep BJD Intact?
In a state where regional outfits have not had an average lifespan of more than eight years, BJD’s journey over the last 15 years is a spectacular achievement for a regional party. In Odisha, there were governments of the Ganatantra Parishad, the Jana Congress and of course Utkal Congress, the last one headed by Biju Patnaik, between the 1950s and 1970s. They were followed by mostly Congress governments and a brief period, by Janata Dal, both national parties.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is facing hard times in his party after the failed coup attempt by the party ideologue Pyarimohan Mahapatra. Till the coup, nobody in his dream in Odisha ever thought that BJD would face such an acutely turbulent period as it has been facing now. BJD was formed in 1997 after Biju Patnaik’s death, with a section of Janata Dal leaders leaving the parent party to set up a regional party for retaining the Biju legacy.
Pyari Mohapatra “betrayed” Naveen Babu, who has been heading the BJD government in Odisha for last 12 years. Naveen was new in politics. It was Mahapatra, who taught basics of politics to Naveen.
In 2012, flush with an unprecedented victory in the Panchayat polls when the BJD won over two thirds of the Zilla Parishad seats, the party seemed enthusiastic of registering a record fourth win in the 2014 assembly polls. Congress, the main opposition party, seemed as listless as ever with BJP reduced to a signboard party, thanks to its insipid performance in the 2009 assembly polls and massive infighting. All the calculations changed on May 29 when a peeved Pyarimohan, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, who served as Biju Patnaik’s principal secretary during his tenure as Chief Minister between 1990 and 1995, decided to pull the rug from under Naveen Patnaik’s feet while he was away in the UK. It was Pyarimohan, who over the last 10 years successfully moulded Naveen’s future, demolishing political opponents and fixing intra-party rivals with the skills that would have made Chanakya proud. Starting from Bijoy Mohapatra’s expulsion in 2000, dumping the BJP just ahead of 2009 assembly polls and fashioning a victory by winning over 100 seats in the 2009 assembly poll were mostly the handiwork of Pyarimohan.
Pyarimohan’s stranglehold over Odisha politics and administration was legendary till he and Naveen fell apart over a series of humiliations heaped on him by Naveen Patnaik, starting from the nomination of Ranendra Pratap Swain for Athgarh assembly bypoll to the Rajya Sabha polls early this year. Though the Congress is still a rudderless opposition, it still has a 32 per cent vote share, just 4 per cent less than BJD. With Pyari determined to teach Naveen a lesson of his life, he may destabilise the support base of the BJD in at least 50-60 constituencies.
For most of its lifespan, the BJD has always been in power. Naveen has never known what life means without red-light cars, fawning officers and ministers. If the BJD is vanquished in the next election, the party may simply wither away as it has been the case of all the three regional parties in the past.
At the same time, is this the end of the road for BJD strategist Pyarimohan Mohapatra? Or is there some fight left in him? Soon after he was suspended from the BJD on June 1 by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for the failed coup, a belligerent Mohapatra described his one-time protege as a traitor and announced that he would go back to the party workers and people. It is to be noted that Pyarimohan enjoyed unflinching authority as Naveen did not meddle in party affairs. Mohapatra was the person whom the leaders and workers looked forward to in times of crisis.Things, however, had started to change after the rift between the two leaders earlier this year. The clout enjoyed by the Rajya Sabha MP diminished day-by-day and after his suspension, he was left with the support of only three leaders of the BJD.
Although over 30 MLAs had trooped to his residence on May 29 night to show their support, most switched loyalty when he needed them the most. Mohapatra was never a politician who enjoyed the support of the masses to give viability to a political party other than the BJD. It was Naveen’s charisma that was responsible for the wins the BJD clinched in the last three elections. Now that Mohapatra has been shown the door, he has three courses of action open before him. He can lie low and wait for an opportune moment to strike back. The second is to organise his supporters in the party to challenge Naveen’s leadership. The third is to join another party. However, by announcing that he will not keep quiet and describing Naveen as a traitor, Mohapatra has already challenged his leadership openly.
Sources say that though his supporters are now lying low and have crossed over to Naveen, discontentment will soon start taking shape after the Cabinet reshuffle which is likely soon. After the dismissal of two ministers on June 1, the BJD government now has four vacancies. Some more Mohapatra loyalists in the Cabinet are also likely to be axed during the reshuffle. But this development is in the realm of possibility and it is to be seen now how many leaders will actually associate themselves with Mohapatra after the suspension.
Mohapatra had calculated that he had the support of 62 MLAs. But ultimately, the figure has now come down to three or four as everybody else has crossed over. However, looking at the political careers of leaders who fell out of favour with Naveen, Mohapatra may find it difficult to stand up against him. Senior leaders like Bijay Mohapatra, Ramakrushna Patnaik, Nalini Kanta Mohanty and others saw their political life hitting a downward trend after their rift with Patnaik. Though all the three joined different political parties and Bijay even floated a regional outfit to challenge the BJD, their anti-Naveen moves were not successful.
This time also Naveen cracked the whip swiftly to stamp out any trace of dissidence in the party. Along with Mohapatra, two MLAs—Prabhat Biswal and Bibhuti Balabantray—were suspended from the party. Two ministers—Anjali Behera and Sanjib Sahu—were dismissed too. But in a sense, the war between the two leaders has now started. Mohapatra still has many supporters left in the BJD whom he had groomed. They may have crossed over to Naveen for the sake of expediency, but their future activities cannot be predicted. As Mohapatra said on May 30: “Naveen is now safe but future cannot be predicted in politics.”
However, the BJD received a shot in the arm with all the four NCP MLAs in the state joining the party. The four MLAs, Amar Prasad Satpathy, Nabin Nanda, Prashant Nanda and Ramchabdra Hansda, who joined the party at Naveen Nivas in the presence of the Chief Minister, claimed that they had come without any conditions. The NCP had contested the last elections in tandem with the BJD. The state unit of the NCP also had differences with its national unit on several issues, including support to PA Sangma as the presidential candidate. NCP leader Sharad Pawar did not want them to support Sangma.With the four NCP MLAs jointing the party, the strength of BJD in the 147-member assembly goes up to 108, creating a shield against any possibility of a major split.
In more than a decade, precisely since BJD was formed, none but Pyari has proved to be a person of leadership quality. In the party of sycophants, he alone was the man from whom, the people know, the Chief Minister was taking instructions.
Now that he has been jettisoned, Patnaik will stay surrounded by the sycophants and the vested-interests. Plenty of sycophants sans political acumen would be of no use to Naveen. This will further push Odisha into labyrinths of scams that people would not tolerate.
By Kishor Dash from Bhubaneswar