Recent events may force the CM to lean towards an alliance of regional parties.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik might have kept himself away from the recent anti-Modi unity move in Karnataka, but developments in his own state in the coming days may finally push the satrap to swerve towards a “national front” of regional parties backed by Congress. In case his bête-noir Baijayant “Jay” Panda, who quit the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) last week, joins the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is almost certain now, it may annoy Patnaik to the extent that he may decide to join the anti-BJP ranks.
The sudden unfolding of a series of developments in the state and outside as well last fortnight has thrown the state into a political turmoil. The two major events that pushed up political temperatures in the state the most are: Jay Panda deserting BJD and Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a massive rally in Cuttack. Panda has squarely blamed Patnaik for his decision to leave the party he once helped form.
Prof Ganeshi Lal taking over as Governor of the state and initial knee-jerk reactions from BJD leaders have added hues to the already muddied water of the state’s politics. Prof Lal is a hardcore RSS man and was the Haryana unit president of BJP, besides being a minister in the Bansi Lal-led HVP-BJP government there way back in 1996-99. BJD has reasons to see BJP’s choice of Prof Lal for the gubernatorial assignment with suspicious eyes, with role of Governors coming under scanner after the Karnataka episode.
Also, developments like the demise of Panda’s illustrious father Bansidhar, who was the doyen of Odisha Inc., and CM Patnaik’s staying away from paying obeisance to the departed soul so far have intensely stirred the political scenario in the state. In fact, Jay Panda has made the CM’s conspicuous absence from funerals the immediate provocation behind quitting the party.
Panda Jr’s is a classic case of a long spell of “politics of prostration” gradually declining to the level of “political vengeance” over the years. According to political observers, gone are the days when Patnaik used to skilfully nudge out probable challengers to his position and adversaries within the party in a subtle manner. They rue that a culture of “arrogance of power” and political vengeance has set in now in the state. It reminds people of the “J.B. Patnaik era” when vengefulness had peaked, they add. Panda had not only helped Patnaik form the party, but also stood by him all through his struggle to establish himself in the party and the government since his nascent years. Their fathers were bosom friends and had helped each other position themselves on the top of their respective fields. Both the families have known each other for decades and enjoyed the fruits of power and wealth together.
Nobody exactly knows what went wrong between the two, but since the days they began to fall out, Panda has been having harrowing experiences both politically and financially. He has been getting it left, right and centre from all and sundry of the ruling dispensation. Leading the charge is none other than Patnaik’s right-hand man and private secretary V. Karthikeyan Pandian, an IAS officer infamously referred to as “third floor” as he sits on the said floor of the state secretariat. Panda has mentioned Pandian’s name many times in his statements, accusing him of conspiring to wedge a rift between him (Panda) and Patnaik.
Things came to a head when Panda was divested of all official positions. Later, even the business interests of the Panda family were targeted. The mines, the factories and other commercial establishments run by them were hit hard by the vengeance unleashed by Patnaik and his associates, both in the party and the government.
Panda, the 54-year-old four-time MP who was once the face of BJD in Delhi, was finally dismissed from the party for anti-party activities early this year. Panda was humiliated, harassed, heckled and physically assaulted by “partymen” wherever he went. The fissures ran so deep that he was even hit with stones, eggs and footwear during a meeting in his own constituency. However, the last straw came when Patnaik chose to skip the funeral of Panda’s father who died on 22 May. In a scathing letter to Patnaik, Panda reminded him that his father was one of the pallbearers during the funeral of Biju Patnaik, the former’s father.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister has been facing widespread criticism for not attending Panda Sr’s last rites. Social media is unequivocally vociferous in condemning Patnaik on the issue. It is learnt that Panda is all set to join BJP after all the rituals are completed, next week. The “mishran parva” will, however, be held in Delhi in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, and not in Bhubaneswar, for obvious reasons.
Political analysts opine that given the “vengeful” mood Patnaik is in, this will certainly force him to lean towards the “rainbow alliance” the regional parties are trying to forge in order to stop the Modi juggernaut.