A day after Panda joined BJP, Tathagata Satpathy of BJD declared ‘political sanyas’.


New Delhi: After a pregnant pause, former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP, Baijayant Panda finally joined the BJP last Monday, ending all speculation about his political future. He was appointed as BJP’s national vice-president and spokesperson on Friday. Panda, who resigned from the BJD and the Lok Sabha as well nine months ago over his bitter differences with party supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, has always associated himself more with BJP than his parent party on major issues even after the two parties broke their alliance and parted ways in 2009.

Panda joining its ranks will give the BJP a major boost in Odisha where it is looking to improve its tally in the upcoming elections. With party’s national president Amit Shah setting a seemingly intangible target for BJP cadres in the state, Panda’s inclusion has come as a shot in its arm. BJP has identified Odisha as one of the priority states for the Lok Sabha polls but lagging organisationally. Hence, the party is in need of such young, dynamic leaders to inject fresh blood into its poll-preparedness.

Coming from an illustrious background, Panda’s political journey was rather smooth till the time he fell out with Patnaik a couple of years ago. Especially since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, Panda has been heaping praise on him while questioning Patnaik’s working style. Once regarded as the “face of BJD” in Delhi, Panda has always taken the high moral ground and spoken his mind candidly on issues concerning the people and the country, even if meant taking a line different from that of the party. Having a clean image, his track record as a four-time MP has been “fairly good”.

Panda, 55, who likes to be addressed by his nick name “Jay”, is considered as one of those “new age” media-savvy, urbane and widely networked politicians who bring with them a lot of sophistication, articulation and intellectual prowess to grasp the complexities of governance with ease. Though he is not a mass leader, his presence in the party would give BJP immense advantage of having in its kitty an industrial magnet who owns Odisha’s most popular vernacular TV channel.

Kendrapada, the Lok Sabha constituency which Panda has represented twice and has been nurturing for long, is a prestigious seat in the politically significant coastal belt of the state which has always elected “Biju loyalists” after the legendary leader’s demise. It is to be seen how the electorate reacts if Panda contests from there this time too. He had won from the seat both the time in 2009 and 2014 on a BJD ticket and with a margin of more than 2 lakh votes. But the victories were largely attributed to Patnaik’s mass appeal.

Panda may not be able to invoke Bijubabu and seek votes in his name from a BJP platform this time, whereas the rival BJD will find it easy to brand him anti-Biju “who has stabbed his son Naveen in the back”. Political observers hence feel that Panda’s personal appeal among the voters will be under test this time.

Odisha is set to go for Assembly elections along with the parliamentary polls and Kendrapara has important Assembly segments such as Kendrapara, Salipur, Mahanga, Patkura, Aul, Rajanagar and Mahakalapada. Therefore, a lot is at stake for both Panda and BJP.

There are, however, rumours that Panda may shift to Bargarh, his maternal grandfather’s place, in western Odisha, and it is said that people there will love to have him as their parliamentary representative.

According to some sources, he may also be asked to fight from some other seat like Dhenkanal, because of his proximity to Union Minister and BJP’s chief ministerial face, Dharmendra Pradhan, who belongs to the area. In any case, Panda’s entry into BJP would certainly impact the political scenario in the state in a major way.

Another development around the same time which will also have its effect on the state’s politics is BJD’s Dhenkanal MP Tathagata Satpathy’s decision to take “political sanyas”. A day after Panda joined BJP, Satpathy declared that he was going to bid goodbye to electoral politics but said in the same vein that he would be in politics. Citing filial and professional reasons, the son of former Chief Minister Nandini Satpathy claimed that his 13-year-old son Aaryl Che prodded him to call it quits and he would now focus on his journalistic endeavour. Satpathy, whose father was also an MP representing the same constituency, owns and edits two dailies—one Odia and another English newspaper.

The 63-year-old four-term MP, who is the chief whip of BJD in the outgoing Lok Sabha, is believed to have fallen out of CM Patnaik’s grace, hence the decision—a pre-emptive move to save his face before the party declares the list of candidates sans his name. However, sources said, Satpathy is trying hard to get a BJP ticket for his wife Adyasha Dash from the family’s traditional LS seat as BJD has decided to field Sudhir “Nidhi” Samal there this time. But some others suggest that he may finally settle for a BJD ticket for his wife from the Dhenkanal Assembly segment.

Meanwhile, rumour mills are agog that after Panda, another BJD veteran is in the queue to join BJP. Sitting Cuttack MP, Bhartruhari Mahtab, last of the once powerful BJD trio Panda-Satpathy-Mahtab, is speculated to be waiting in the wings to follow Panda’s suit. Mahtab, who is presently the chief whip of the BJD in the Rajya Sabha, is also a soft-spoken and suave politician like Panda. If Mahtab joins BJP, the party’s electoral prospects will no doubt brighten further.

A lot of political drama will unfold once the Election Commission declares the poll dates next week.