Jay Panda suspended as BJD spokesperson, but he is not the only worry for the party

In a development that is bound to spice up politics in the state and within Biju Janata Dal, Odisha Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik sacked senior party MP Baijayant Panda from the post of BJD Parliamentary Party spokesperson yesterday.

Patnaik removed Panda from the party post with immediate effect; a terse one-liner – signed by party vice-president Suryo Narayan Patro – announced the decision. The announcement did not cite any reasons why Panda was being removed:

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Panda on his part too reacted rather economically with words, saying he “respects the party president’s decision”.

This development comes a couple of months after Panda penned an editorial in Samaja about self introspection by the party. His subsequent comments on social media over the need for course correction by the party in wake of BJP’s rising fortunes in the state have not gone down well with many BJD supporters and leaders.

Last week, Naveen Patnaik had announced Rajya Sabha nomination for Pratap Keshari Deb, former MLA from Jay Panda’s parliamentary constituency. Deb had been vocal against Jay Panda’s utterances on social media. He routinely advocated and advised Jay Panda to discuss party affair in party meetings and not to ‘wash dirty linens in public’.

The removal from spokesperson post is believed to be the first warning to the ‘erring’ MP for his ‘anti party’ rumbling in social and mainstream media. Apart from his editorial in Samaja, commenting on the recent joining of former BJD leaders in BJP, this is what Jay Panda had tweeted:

Earlier, we had told you how his routine outbursts in the social media were brewing a political storm in Odisha politics. Naveen is known to be a hard task master and doesn’t take any party indiscipline lying down. BJD MP from Cuttack, Shri Bhartruhari Mahatab was earlier served a show cause notice for hinting that BJD should join hands with Congress. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that CM has taken action against Jay Panda after his ‘repeat offences’.

However, it appears that these disciplinary actions are not working to the effect Naveen babu would have wanted. Bhatruhari Mahtab seems to ignore the warning and is continuing his rants against some party leaders, calling some of them ‘cockroaches who are daring to fly’, which was seen by some as veiled reference to new cabinet appointees by the Chief Minister.

Not just Mahtab, there are others too attacking fellow party leaders showing that rift within BJD is not about just one or two leaders. Jairam Pangi, Ex- BJD MP and former Koraput district president of BJD, had earlier raised his voice in the media against BJD’s Rajya Sabha nominee N. Bhaskar Rao. Also, he had termed BJD minister Rabi Narayan Nanda as ‘beimaan’ (dishonest).

Owning to these outbursts, he was suspended from BJD. Last week, he, along with hundreds of volunteers of BJD from Koraput district, joined BJP in the presence of Union minister Dhramedra Pradhan. Last week itself, another BJD leader Amar Nayak from Jajpur district had also joined BJP.

The recent cabinet reshuffle, supposed to have been done to send signals to non-performing members and to make the party stronger and more disciplined, has actually made matters worse. It has thrown up even more dissenters and disgruntled members.

Sundergarh BJD president threatened to mass resign along with district workers due to non-representation in the cabinet. Sambalpur MLA Dr. Smt. Raseswari Panigrahi showed similar concerns and her supporters staged a dharna. Even Jungarh MLA Dibya Shankar Mishra, who is also an official spokesperson of the party, came out in open to criticise the cabinet selection.

A common element in all these can be argued to be resentment of some party members and leaders against what is seen as unilateral decisions by the party high command. With BJP already getting in election mode in the state, coming days are going to be very interesting in Odisha politics.

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