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Is BJD’s Jay Panda joining BJP just a matter of time now?

Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Lok Sabha MP from Kendrapara, Baijayant Panda is apparently set to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to Republic TV, Panda, whose differences with Odisha Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik have widened in the recent past, may soon join the BJD.

Currently Panda is on UK tour where he is an international election observer on behalf of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Mission. However back home, the news of Panda’s possible joining the BJP has heat up the political temperature of Odisha.

Amid speculation that Panda is planning to join the BJP, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the saffron party welcomes all good people to its fold. “All good people are always welcome to the party with open arms. If they believe in the Prime Minister and the party’s national president Amit Shah’s leadership and support party ideology, they are welcome,” Pradhan told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

It could be noted that Baijayant Panda is a vocal supporter of PM Modi’s policies. Rising above the party line, Panda has showered praises at Modi on various occasions. In the recent times, Panda praised the Modi government for its demonetisation drive. Panda had praised the BJP recently after Uttar Pradesh election results too.

“As for BJP, despite being hard hit by anti-incumbency in Goa and Punjab its success in Uttar Pradesh was resounding, with a whopping 40% vote share. What distinguished its campaign was a resolute return to 2014’s development mantra,” Panda wrote in his monthly column in Times of India.

Panda, however, had defended his stand on BJP under Modi saying that he praises anyone who served the national interest and interests of Odisha.

At the same time, the Kendrapara Lok Sabha MP was open about his displeasure against his own party – the BJD. Following BJP’s unexpected rise and BJD’s downfall in the last Panchayat elections in Odisha, Panda had written an Op-Ed in leading daily ‘Samaj’ asking his party to do the soul searching.

“Key positions in the party are no longer held by those who struggle for the party and may have given honest feedback, but rather opportunist from various fields, including those who had worked against the BJD,” Panda had written.

That did not go down well with the BJD leadership. Months after the Op-Ed and his subsequent comments on social media over the need for course correction in the party, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik sacked him from the BJD Parliamentary Party spokesperson post without even citing any reason.

Recently, supporters of Odisha Health Minister Pratap Jena – who is known as Panda’s detractor – had hurled eggs, chhapals and stones at the Lok Sabha MP while he was launching a water tank project for 5.2 million litres of drinking water in his Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency.

Fissures are growing in the BJD over Baijyanta Panda. Panda has a strong clout in the party. If he switches side, many others will follow the suit. That is precisely the reason Naveen Patnaik was not able to take direct action against Panda.

At a time when the BJD sources maintain that Baijayant Panda’s camp is feeding the national media with feelers, Panda is yet to spell out his intent in as many as words. But this goes without saying that neither the BJD nor him are now comfortable with each other.

Given the context, Panda is best fitted into BJP’s scheme of things. But it is not conclusive when exactly he is switching sides. At a time the BJP looks to win the 2019 Assembly elections in Odisha, Baijayant Panda’s joining will certainly give the saffron party an edge.

But 2019 elections are full two years away. If Panda joins the BJP, he will lose his Lok Sabha membership and there would be a by-poll for the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat within six months of his possible resignation. Only after six months, Panda could be re-elected as a Lok Sabha MP from a BJP ticket.

Panda could be a minister in Narendra Modi Cabinet. Given his understanding on economic policies, he will certainly be an asset to the Modi government.

In politics, timing is always important. It remains to be seen when Panda is switching to the BJP.

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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