BJD In the Throes of a Crisis

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The process of internal churning in the ruling BJD is intensifying with lots of interesting developments taking place. While the chief minister has sought to shore up the government and the party by effecting a ministry reshuffle, he has also cracked his whip on perceived dissidents in a bid to restoring discipline. All this to check the growth of BJP in the state.

The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is in doldrums. The crisis within the party became visible in the immediate wake of panchayat elections where it did not perform upto the expectations. Within BJP making steady and big inroads into BJD bastions chief minister and party supremo, Naveen Patnaik was forced to seek course correction.

The immediate fall-out of the crisis was the reshuffle of the ministry with quite a few ministers being dropped and new faces inducted to save the image of the government though the ostensible reason for the exercise was said to be drafting some younger ministers for organisational work. The chief minister, interestingly, also made a Rajya Sabha member resign and appointed him as the deputy chairman of state planning board thus creating a Rajya Sabha vacancy which has now been filled up by BJD’s most eloquent spokesperson, PK Deb.

Quite a few of the ministers dropped either had charges against them or had failed to perform well in the panchayat polls. While Sanjay Das Burma had once been summoned by the CBI currently probing the chit fund scandal, Arun sahu had become controversial with his remarks about Shankaracharya during the Rath Yatra in 2014.

Senior party leader and former minister, Debi Mishra was divested of ministerial responsibilities because the party had failed to do well in his assembly constituency area in the rural polls. The new inductions were equally interestingly. While the chief minister brought in Surya Narayan Patro who had been sulking after not being made a minister in 2014, he took in some first time ministers such as Chandrasarathi Behera, son for late BJD veteran, Kalindi Charan Behera.

What made Naveen draft in new faces? First the growing concern about the image of the party that had been seriously dented by the involvement of a number of party leaders in scams and controversies. While one of its sitting MPs is still in jail in connection with the chit fund scam, quite a few others have kicked up unnecessary controversies that could well have been avoided.

The second and the much  bigger  worry was the growing strength of the BJP which seems to be on a rampage following its sterling performance in the panchayat polls. With party president, Amit Shah declaring war against Naveen Patnaik government it is more than clear that  no quarters would be given in this battle.

Patnaik, who swears by the policy of maintaining equidistance from Congress and the BJP, has in the past tried hard to humour Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and even supported the BJP in parliament on some crucial issues helping it get some important bills passed in the Rajya Sabha. Modi responded by refusing to attack Naveen during his Odisha visits. Even Amit Shah was initially reluctant to take on Patnaik.

But then Shah blew the bugle of war during his rally in Bhubaneswar last year issuing the call for throwing out the Naveen government. “Is sarkar ko ukhad kar Bengal ki khadi mein fenk do (dump this government into the Bay of Bengal,” was his cry and it is still reverberating through the rank and file of the state BJP.

The creditable performance of the party in the panchayat polls boosted its morale and made it feel that it is capable of challenging the BJD in 2019. Now Shah has laid down plans for the big battle and will himself be leading it. During his upcoming visit to the state he would trying to strenghthen BJP units in districts such as Ganjam, the home turf of the chief minister, right upto the booth level.

Naveen, too, knows that he has a battle on hands and so he is keeping the powder dry. He is focussing as much on improving the performance of his government as on strengthening the BJD organisation. In the process he has also sought to punish leaders who are perceived to have defied the party discipline.

He cracked his whip recently removing Kendrapara MP, Baijayant Panda as the spokesperson of BJD parliamentary party. The fault of the MP was that he had chosen to comment on fellow MP, Tathagat Satpathy’s remarks about an “ insider” trying to split the party at the behest of BJP. Then he also expressed his views on the newspaper articles written by Cuttack MP, Bhartrihari Mahtab.

In the hindsight it seems Tathagat was used by the chief minister as an agent provocateur to draw Panda, who the chief minister believes to be close to the BJP, out of his cover. Panda’s telltale response to the Dhenkanal MP’s tweet went against him. It was an admission of guilt, according to sources within party and the chief minister acted immediately.

Interestingly, the action against Panda, who has praised Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on several occasions, was quickly followed by the announcement of Rajya Sabha candidature of PK Deb, a former minister and senior BJD leader from Kendrapara. The buzz in the ruling party circles is that the chief minister wants to use Deb as a counterpoise against Panda who may be denied a party ticket from Kendrapara in the next Lok Sabha elections. The ticket may go to Deb who hails from the Aul royal family and enjoys a lot of influence in the district besides having resources at his command.

All these developments suggest that a lot of churning is taking place in the ruling BJD where more shocking developments may take place. The possibility of chief minister cracking his whip on some more leaders is not being ruled out. State politics is currently at a very interesting remove where the BJD is dealing with internal crises at a time when the BJP is rising both at its cost and at the cost of the Congress which down in the dumps.

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