Unsure of joining the BJP, Jay Panda may float a new party.
Ardent and ambitious followers of former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Baijayant “Jay” Panda want him to be the “king”, and not a “kingmaker”, nor even a “courtier”. They argue that given the “anti-incumbency wave” flowing against Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and a “weak” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not in a position to fill the void thereof, there is every chance that people of the state will vote for a new political formation next year.
Taking a cue from the recent developments in Karnataka, they predict that a situation will come when a non-BJD non-BJP party would form the government in the state and Panda would head it, on the lines of H.D. Kumaraswamy. They discount the Congress as a “spent force”, hence a non-factor at the hustings.
Panda resigned from the Lower House early this week, a fortnight after leaving the party he helped form 22 years ago. It was a double-whammy for him when he lost his father on 22 May 2018 and quit the party four days later, in the middle of the funeral rituals, by sending a scathing and emotional letter to CM Patnaik, who is also the party supremo.
In the letter, Panda had hinted that he was not only quitting the party but would also resign from Lok Sabha once his father’s final rituals were over. He represented the politically-sensitive Kendrapara constituency in coastal Odisha twice. Earlier, he was also elected to the Upper House twice from BJD.
After deserting BJD, it was widely expected that Panda would join the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah sometime in the second week of June in New Delhi, and not in Bhubaneswar for obvious reasons.
Sources confided that Panda was even scheduled to be inducted into the Modi ministry once he joined the BJP. Courtesy his long experience and deep involvement in Track-II diplomacy with many countries, he might have been given the External Affairs portfolio as a Minister of State. But with his putting in his paper before Speaker Sumitra Mahajan last Tuesday, that no more remains a probability.
Now, Panda seems to be on the horns of a dilemma: whether to join the BJP or float a new regional outfit. Both options have their own merits and demerits. By joining BJP, he would creep into the safer confines of a major national cadre-based party, that too the ruling one. There, he would get a well-oiled and well-funded network of disciplined workers at his disposal.
Interestingly, the state unit of BJP is just waiting with its arms open to accept Panda into its fold. While the ground-level workers there have already accepted him as one of their leaders, the state leadership has started counting him as one of them. Moreover, Panda’s equation with the BJP central leadership has been excellent so far. Hence, Panda would, no doubt, find himself comfortable there.
Grapevine has it that BJP’s powerful national general secretary, Ram Madhav was in Bhubaneswar last week to attend the eleventh day ritual of Panda’s father. He drove straight to Panda’s house, was closeted with the latter for two hours in a one-on-one meeting and quietly left the city before anybody could get a whiff of it. He did not even visit party’s state headquarters in the city. Nobody knows what exactly transpired between the two, but rumour mills are spinning various theories.
However, there is no apparent urgency or immediate gain for Panda in walking into the saffron fold at this point of time, especially after quitting his LS membership.
On the other hand, there is a strong view prevailing among a section of his followers, mostly with anti-BJP sentiments, that he should form a new party on his own, before becoming politically irrelevant in Odisha politics as elections are still a year away.
The rationale behind the idea is that it will facilitate an exodus of disgruntled elements in the BJD. It is an open secret that a number of BJD leaders and workers are in search for an outlet to vent their ire against the present leadership of the party. But they are not willing to walk straight into the BJP fold either. Panda’s followers argue that the proposed party would provide these dissenters a platform to jump into.
They are of the view that there are many prominent leaders in the state’s ruling dispensation who are piqued with the attitude of their leadership and the manner they are running the government and the party machineries. They suggest that if not a full-fledged party, Panda should float a political front, at least for the time being, which will act as a non BJD non-BJP forum in the state and the BJD defectors would not hesitate to join it.
Not only BJD dissidents, they also target such elements in BJP and Congress and want to make the proposed forum a common platform for all those deserters in each party. There are also many independent leaders heading negligible parties and mass organisations who can join in. The prominent names they have in their mind are Damodar Rout, Praful Ghadei, Panchanan Kanungo, Alekh Jena, Raja Swain (all BJD), Bijay Mohapatra, Dilip Ray (both BJP), Krushna Chandra Sagaria (Congress), Kharbela Swain (Utkal Bharat) and Braja Kishore Tripathy (Samata Kranti Dal), among many others.
With the Congress passing into political oblivion in the state, this front can even become the “Third Front” in the future, his supporters hold. And if the front can muster enough seats in the 2019 elections, Panda can do a Kumaraswamy in Odisha and lead a government of his own.
This way he would not only upstage his archrival Naveen Patnaik but also play an important role in national politics, they further argue.