Odisha politics: Naveen Patnaik facing heat from BJP’s growth and internal feud

A political storm has been brewing in Odisha for last couple of months, intensity of which increased after BJP surprised everyone with its performance in panchayat polls last month. The storm has now gained enough momentum to form into a category 5 cyclone, something this part of the country is famous for.

On Monday, Party MP Mr. Tathagata Satpathy sent out this series of tweets, claiming that BJP was trying to split BJD. He hinted at one MP (of BJD) helping BJP in this mission:

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Something similar was suggested by one of the party veteran and a motormouth, Mr. Damodar Rout, who is also a state minister, when he blamed “Bibhisans” in the party for BJD’s loss and BJP’s gains in the panchayat polls.

However, Mr. Satpathy hinted at one certain Bibhishan (as against many Bibhisans) in his series of tweets.

Any person remotely familiar with Odisha politics will know whom he was hinting at. So when a Twitter user asked for Mr. Baijayant Jay Panda’s comment on it, this was his reply:

Clearly, Panda babu didn’t take it lightly. After all, he has been a disciplined soldier of the party since its formation in 1997. In fact, he was one of the founding members along with other party veterans, some of whom have now been sidelined.

But there have been a lot of rumours in Odisha political circle about him switching sides to BJP, primarily because he is not seen as a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government. So much so that even if he says something about BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh, media channels owned by rival parties publish headlines like “Jay Panda praising Shatru Pakshya (enemy side in Odia)”, which adds fuel to the infighting within BJD.

Yesterday, Mr. Panda wrote an op-ed titled “BJD – Atmasamikhya ra samaya” in an Odia daily, which in English, translates to “BJD – Time for introspection”. Incidentally, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik had called for introspection after the panchayat poll results surprised many.

This op-ed is being seen as further proof of internal feud in the party. Although worded very well, one can’t miss the undertones of the op-ed, which virtually puts the onus of decline in BJD’s popularity at Naveen Patnaik’s doorstep. The article recalls how BJD grew because Congress in the state was seen as corrupt party infested with criminal elements, but cautions that the same allegations were now being levelled against the BJD.

The op-ed by Mr. Panda further highlights concerns like opportunists being rewarded by BJD and the party being run by bureaucrats. He further says that the young generation may not remember about injustices during the Congress rule, but remembers those faced today under the BJD regime. The article finally concludes that unless Naveen Patnaik urgently deals with these issues, the party will struggle.

While one may argue over the intention or timing of this ‘public introspection’, but not much is there to disagree. One of the USPs of Naveen Patnaik was his clean image and no-nonsense attitude towards acting against corruption. However, since 2014, that image has taken a beating. The chit fund scam saw his personal assistant being caught grilled by CBI in the scam.

Although the op-ed doesn’t directly identify it as a problem, there is a mention of senior leaders being ignored. It is true that founding members like Dilip Ray and Bijay Mohapatra are now no longer in the party. A senior member like Damodar Rout been given Cooperation and Excise ministry is also seen as a snub. For the uninitiated, imagine Arun Jaitley being given food processing ministry. Second generation leaders and party hoppers have been given cabinet berths or Rajya Sabha nominations. Party members may not speak this in media, but from time to time, their frustration does come out in one form or the other.

So what is BJD’s official reaction to these concerns raised by Mr. Panda? Party spokesperson, Mr. Pratap Keshari Deb, former MLA from Aali assembly constituency, has termed it as indiscipline. He said this in a panel discussion on a channel owned by Mr. Panda. When asked, if Panda babu has said anything untrue, he replied, “If you have an advice for the party, media is not the forum. Discuss it among the party members. This is a clear case of indiscipline”.

However, in the heat of the debate, he agreed that what Panda babu had written was “Apriya Satya” – Truth which nobody likes to hear. Today, Mr. Panda reiterated that all he wanted was that Naveen Patnaik should recognise the current challenges and take corrective steps:


So how is Naveen babu going to take all this? Will he be miffed that this is being discussed in public, or will he take it as constructive criticism? Is “internal feud” in BJD going to get worse, or we are going to see a revival?

For those who have followed Naveen Patnaik, he shares some similarities with Sonia Gandhi. He rarely gives interviews to media and is not so accessible to the public. He is the supreme boss of his party. But since last few days, he is going out of his ways to interact with public. Be it a surprise visit to a bookstore or selfie with agricultural students, he is certainly trying an image makeover.

However, dealing with intra-party politics is different. Even if he doesn’t take the op-ed of Mr. Panda as a personal criticism or indiscipline, it is now not a secret that a political storm is brewing inside his party and he needs to fight it.

I will like to conclude by reminding readers that Naveen Patnaik was felicitated by the UN for efficient disaster management after cyclone Phailin hit coast of Odisha in 2013. He needs to showcase similar disaster management skills once again.

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