Naveen Patnaik’s shrewd move to placate BJP in Odisha

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BJD’s current move to attend the Parliament building inauguration ceremony has dampened the spirits of the enthusiastic BJP cadres of the state.

Political expediency seems to be the sole consideration behind the Biju Janata Dal’s decision to be seen on the right side of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contrary to its oft repeated position that the party maintains equidistance from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The party has rebuffed the opposition unity moves and was seen at the celebrations to mark the inaugural ceremony of the new Parliament complex in New Delhi in last week of May.

 

BJD president Naveen Patnaik’s decision not to join the 20-party alliance of which the Congress party is a dominant partner and cast his lot with the BJP with which his party had severed its alliance in 2009 soon after the Kandhamal violence may have baffled many as many may see the move a possible step towards revival of the BJD-BJP alliance. But, it’s not so. His party strategists are of the firm opinion that the step is a well calculated move to keep the BJP at bay in the state politics. Patnaik will be seeking his sixth consecutive term in the office when the state will face Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha polls next year.

No doubt, the BJP became significant in the state politics only as an alliance partner of the BJD. The alliance ruled the state from 2000 to 2009. The party not only gained prominence by becoming a partner in the BJD-led Government but also expanded its roots in the nine Lok Sabha and 63 Assembly seats allocated to it by the alliance. But the Kandhamal violence in 2008 saw Naveen parting ways with the BJP. After that it had been a downhill journey for the saffron party until 2019 when it managed to relegate the Congress to the third position and emerged as the principal opposition. But, in the electoral race, the BJP and Congress are far behind the race and a triangular contest only works to the advantage of the regional party. The BJD scored over 50% votes in both gram panchayat and urban body polls in 2022.

Since 2014, Patnaik’s strategy has been to keep the BJP’s central leadership in good humour and be ruthless when it comes to the state unit often confusing the rank and files of the BJP in the state. The BJD has extended support to the Narendra Modi Government on all crucial issues, be it demonetisation, Citizenship Amendment Act or abrogation of Article 370.

Even political pundits were baffled when the BJD surprised everyone by getting the current Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw elected to the Rajya Sabha on the BJP ticket in 2019. The party with 23 seats in the 147-member State Assembly was hardly in a position to get its candidate elected. In fact, initially Patnaik had announced that Vaishnaw was the BJD candidate but within minutes he clarified that Vaishnaw was the nominee of the BJP. Patnaik’s moves were notwithstanding the fact that BJP’s strongman Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s call to the voters to uproot the ‘burnt transformer’, i.e. Naveen Patnaik Government in the run up to the 2019 elections.

Patnaik has managed to create a formidable base for his party with women and youth becoming bulk of his supporters through different schemes. He has been assiduously cultivating his vote bank for decades. Since 2019, after the BJP emerged as the principal opposition party with 23 Assembly and eight Lok Sabha seats, the Naveen Patnaik government has made a series of moves – revamping of all major temples and pilgrimage sites including beautification of the surroundings of the Sri Jagannath Temple in Puri – to deny the local BJP any chance of mobilising the electorate on the Hindutva plank. It has also started appropriating the neglected Odia icons by way developing the birthplaces of Pandit Gopabandhu Das, UtkalGourav Madhusudan Das and other personalities to further Odia pride.

In fact, BJD’s current move to attend the Parliament building inauguration ceremony has dampened the spirits of the enthusiastic BJP cadres of the state. While the BJP central leadership continues to be happy with Patnaik who never confronts them in New Delhi and comes to their rescue whenever they are in need, a powerful group within the state BJP has been of the view that their central leadership must take an aggressive approach towards the BJD government and present itself as the only credible alternative since the Congress is in disarray and its downward journey had accelerated.

Patnaik, however, seems to know one thing clearly that by maintaining equidistance from the BJP and the Congress, the BJD could comfortably win the coming elections in Odisha and, if needed, play a crucial role at the national level no matter which political combination comes to form government at the Centre after the polls.

 

 

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