Patnaik Cozying Upto Modi But BJD Going Strong In The State


Of late there have been several developments that show that chief minister, Naveen Patnaik is coming closer to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Despite BJD’s avowed policy of equidistance from BJP and Congress the party has been extending support to the Modi-led NDA government on crucial issues. In the last few weeks BJD’s support has proved invaluable for the government in the Rajya Sabha. All this has triggered the talk of a deal but BJD continues to go great guns in the state.

The pattern is now becoming increasingly familiar. The latest in the series is Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) support for the Inter-State River Water Disputes Bill, 2019 that was passed by the Lok Sabha recently. It came as no surprise to political observers who have been watching the growing bonhomie between Patnaik and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Modi had begun courting Patnaik, who has become the chief minister of Odisha for the fifth time in a row, even before the results of the recent Lok Sabha and assembly elections were announced. After undertaking an aerial survey of the areas hit by cyclone Fani in the state in the first week of May he had praised the chief minister for the massive evacuation drive carried out by his government before the gale struck the coast. He had also announced an additional assistance of Rs.1000 crore for relief work.

The goodwill generated by the move was carried forward when the two leaders met in Delhi after the announcement of election results. Apart from seeking generous assistance from the Centre for the post-cyclone reconstruction work Patnaik is believed to have discussed with the Prime Minister Odisha’s outstanding demands like the grant of special category status to the state.

The chief minister has been exceptionally warm towards Modi since that meeting in New Delhi despite certain awkward  developments like union environment ministry’s grant of a two-year extension for work on the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh which Odisha has been opposing tooth and nail. There was more disappointment in store for the state. Soon after the Polavaram blow union minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur told the Lok Sabha in reply to a question that there was no proposal under consideration for the grant of special category status to Odisha.

Still the BJD has been extremely generous towards the BJP. First it extended support to the Rajya Sabha candidature of BJP leader and former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav and then backed the controversial triple talaq and RTI amendment bills in the parliament. Its support for the Inter-State River Water Disputes Bill, 2019 is the latest example the growing bonhomie between the two sides which has triggered speculations about a possible deal.

Certain political compulsions of Patnaik are quite obvious. For example the chief minister knows only too well that he needs a friendly Centre in order to keep the state’s finances on an even keel. Given the increasing loan burden of the state it would find it well nigh impossible to undertake the massive reconstruction work in the wake of cyclone Fani without Modi government’s generous financial support. He also needs to remain on the right side of Modi to keep some of his key welfare schemes going.

Speculation has also been rife about Patnaik playing upto Modi for the fear of CBI probe into the chit fund scam being accelerated. Considering that the central agency had arrested some of his party leaders in connection with the scandal he has reasons for being wary on this front. But that certainly is not the only reason for the chief minister cozying upto Modi. There is more to it than meets the eye.

At the same time the victory of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate in Patkura has re-affirmed the party’s political supremacy in the state. Though the margin of win should have been higher going by the claims BJD leaders had made during the course of campaigning it was satisfying nonetheless.

While BJD’s tally in the state assembly has gone upto 113 with this victory which comes as yet another proof of party supremo and chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s near invincibility the outcome in Patkura is bound to trigger speculation about the political future of veteran Bijay Mohapatra who put up a brave fight.

It is to the credit of Mohapatra that he notched up more than 78000 votes in a battle where he was, for all practical purposes, pitted against the chief minister himself. The ruling party had pulled out all stops to win Patkura where ministers and BJD MLAs camped for days together. The BJP has also made allegations of misuse of government machinery.

For those who have been studying Odisha politics closely Patkura was Naveen versus Mohapatra. The two leaders who love to hate each other have a long history of mutual animosity. Mohapatra, who won the Patkura seat four times between 1980 and 1995, was one of the founding members of BJD and also its political affairs committee chairperson.

But his ambitions soon clashed with the interests of Patnaik and he was denied a party ticket to contest from Patkura at the last minute in 2000. The veteran did not even have time to file nomination as an independent from the constituency. Ever since he has not been elected to the state assembly.

Speculation over Mohapatra’s political future is only natural considering that age, too, is not on his side. By the time the next elections arrive it is quite possible that younger leaders in the BJP would be staking a claim to the Patkura seat. Besides it is impossible to predict at this juncture how things would shape up for him within the BJP with which he has had a love- hate relationship.

Mohapatra, who had joined the BJP in 2009 along with his friend and former union minister, Dilip Ray, started having problems with senior leaders of the party after an initial period of bonhomie. He developed serious differences with union minister, Dharendra Pradhan on crucial issues.Ray, too, had problems with the BJP leadership which he accused of not keeping Prime Minister’s election promise of building the second bridge over river Brahmani in his constituency of Rourkela and failing to convert the Ispat General Hospital in the steel city into a super-speciality hospital and medical college.

While Ray has since walked out of the BJP Mohapatra was wooed back by the party on the eve of the elections and given the ticket from Patkura where elections had to be postponed following the death of BJD candidate, Bed Prakash Agarwal. Successive defeats and advancing age are bound to raise a question mark over Mohapatra’s career though his supporters say he still has a lot of politics left in him. On the other hand Patkura triumph has further strengthened the aura of invincibility around Patnaik.