Theory and Practice of Equidistance

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Tathagata Satpathy, BJD MP, had stirred a political storm by questioning party’s decision to extend support to NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind for the President’s post in public forum. In his editorial, he wrote that as BJP is the largest ruling political party and BJD’s decision to support NDA candidate may affect party’s position in Odisha. Amidst this backdrop, BJD had immediately announced support for NDA candidate, before united opposition announced their candidate. It had sent a wrong message about BJD’s intention to fight against central apathy towards Odisha on issues like Mahanadi, Polavaram, special state status and curtailing of several central schemes.

Naveen then said that his BJD had extended support to NDA’s Presidential candidate, but the fight against Central negligence will continue. He said that NDA candidate is a distinguished scheduled caste person and the BJP had supported BJP’s candidate PA Sangma in the last Presidential election. It was then calculated that support from the BJD can give the united opposition a fighting chance against the ruling NDA in the election. As and when NDA announced the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind for the President’s post in the afternoon and Prime Minister Modi telephoned BJD Supremo in evening, Naveen gave his consent, as if he was eagerly awaiting a call from Modi.

BJD, which has been claiming to be equidistant from both the Congress and the BJP, sent mixed signals. Despite being routed in the recent panchayat polls by the BJP, the BJD is yet to come on board with the Opposition on extending support to a non-NDA presidential candidate.

About 2 month’s back Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechury had met BJD chief Naveen Patnaik. However, though Naveen agreed with the need for all Opposition parties to come together to stem the tide of right-wing forces, he had not come on board. Despite the BJP rapidly gaining ground in the state, the BJD chief was still obsessing about the Congress and felt that the Congress was still enemy No. 1. It was on this apprehension that Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has taken the lead in getting the Opposition to flock together for the presidential polls, had not opened any direct channels with BJD, and had rather asked other parties to carry forward the dialogue. Another factor which was preventing Naveen from making up his mind was the BJP floating the name of Draupadi Murmu for the coveted post, who is a tribal woman from Mayurbhanj, from where BJD got a jolt during last November election. It would have been very difficult for Naveen to not back her.

On the other hand support from the BJD, which has more than 32,500 votes, could have given the Opposition a fighting chance against the ruling NDA.BJD was traditionally opposed to the Congress, but had also to woken up to the increasing threat it faced from the BJP. With the NDA having nearly 410 MPs and over 1,600 MLAs, the estimated votes the coalition could muster added up to nearly over 5,32,000. With the help of TRS and the AIADMK signals were clear that NDA would easily be able to get the 5,49,441 votes needed to get its candidate elected.

BJD’s supported to the NDA candidate, stating that after discussing with senior party leaders, they decided to support the NDA candidate as Ram Nath Kovind is an eminent lawyer belonging to the scheduled caste community. They added that the office of the President of India is above political consideration and BJD wants to keep it above the politics. Another reason stated was that the BJD had proposed the name of PA Sangma, last time and BJP had supported his nomination. It was the time to reciprocate! Naveen initially kept everyone guessing as regards his party’s stance on the issue saying he would first discuss the matter with senior party leaders. But it stirred up state-wide debates in political circles. It was the matter of discussion across political spectrum that whether it was a just decision or political blunder? While some were of the opinion that Naveen indulged in a suicidal exercise, others felt that he just played another trick up his sleeve to ward off BJP impact on its voters? It remained a million dollar question that whether BJD would benefit from its decision or pay price for it?

 

The support to NDA’s candidate had certainly sent a wrong signal about the party’s stand on its arch rival BJP. It was construed as an act of submission by the party’s followers as well as detractors, to keep the BJP in good humour and to keep away from the claws of CBI. Some observers also felt that Naveen has been made weak and he can no longer afford to incur further wrath of the BJP. Few also opined that Naveen deliberately supported Kovind to put himself on high moral pedestal and thereby protect his dalit vote bank.

In the mean time, the united opposition under the leadership of Congress has announced Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s candidature for the coveted post of Vice-President. This announcement was made much earlier than NDA made any meeting with the opposition parties. Gandhi happens to be a personal friend of Naveen babu, a grandson of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi and former Governor of West Bengal. Despite all the good and supporting factors, BJD had not extended its support to Gandhi, keeping every one guessing on the game plan of Naveen. NDA on the other hand has not opened its card yet. Hopefully, on 17th evening, it may announce the name of its candidate, only after voting process for Prez election is complete.

NDA candidate may be a parliamentarian suitable to BJP, as the Vice-President is the Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, where NDA is in minority. Although, the names of Najma Hepatullah, Odisha Governor Dr. S.C. Jamir etc are in news, an unexpected dark horse may appear, matching the style of BJP. Whatever it may be, Naveen will certainly extend his support to his friend and UPA candidate Gopal Krishna Gandhi for sure, as it will not affect the winning possibilities of NDA candidate. It will help him to reaffirm his stand on equidistance. He can give a signal to his party cadres to continue their confidence in him. However, he will do so based on the exit poll results on 17th July! [July 16-31,2017]

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