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Baijayant Panda suspended from BJD, what lies ahead for him

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The evident eventuality has happened in Odisha politics. Jay Panda has been suspended from BJD’s primary membership as announced in a press meet by party spokesperson and vice president Surya Narayan Patro, late in the evening on 24th January. It was only couple of weeks back that party supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik hinted at disciplinary action. Hence this suspension comes as little or no surprise.

In its press release, BJD has put forward its reasoning on the suspension:

BJD’s press release on Jay Panda’s suspension

It’s interesting to note that the press release starts with naming Panda as Vice Chairman of IMFA (Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys). The party then alleges that Panda was involved in anti-party activities. Panda has been quite vocal in appreciating some of the policy decision of centre and clearly party leadership has not taken it lightly. BJD also contends that during the panchayat elections where BJD got a drubbing, Panda didn’t campaign for party candidates, he in fact supported opposition candidates.

What is rather amusing to note is, BJD cites a very unusual reason for the alleged anti-party activities of Panda. Panda seems to have requested the party to make him a member of Standing Committee of Finance in Parliament and he claimed to have enough clout to lobby for becoming the Chairman. As he himself is an industrialist, BJD saw this as a conflict of interest and denied this request. As per BJD’s official press release, this is the reason which started his periodic rumblings of discontent.

However, his official position in IMFA, his annual remuneration in IMFA & IMFA’s loan waiver etc. seem unnecessary and disconnected with his suspension. Hence the mention of these smacks of a personal vendetta rather than a valid motive.

The suspension follows closely allegations against Panda that he did not ‘consult’ party members before deciding to spend funds allocated for his parliamentary constituency. Panda had rubbished these allegations but the party decided to ‘investigate’.

BJD had engaged its Kendrapara district observer Smt Pramila Mallick, incidentally an accused in Dal Scam during BJD’s rule in 2011, and Cuttack district observer Smt Usha Devi to probe the allegations brought against Panda by various party cadres.

Pramila Mallick had a phone conversation where Panda refuted the allegations. It is not clear if Usha Devi met Panda or not but submitted her report on 23rd Jan. BJD has not made any of these reports public though the set of events hint at an adverse report.

Suspending founding and senior members is not new to BJD and in fact is a routine affair. It is believed that Naveen Patnaik doesn’t like senior members to grow in stature and has learned the art of cutting them to size in time, lest they outgrow him.

Senior members who were very close to Biju Patnaik and helped Naveen Patnaik to bring BJD into being have all been suspended from BJD, Panda probably being the last one. Dilip Ray, Bijaya Mahapatra and Late Nalini Mohanty were expelled from BJD long back. While Late Shri Nalini Mohanty had joined Congress, Dilip Ray and Bijaya Mahapatra are currently in BJP with Ray being the incumbent MLA of Rourkela on a BJP ticket.

Very recently, another founding member Dr. Damodar Rout was first suspended from cabinet and from party’s Vice President position later on. It will be worthwhile to note that, even Dr. Rout referring to the personal secretary to Naveen Patnaik had quipped that, “3rd floor (CMO in Odisha secretariat) is definitely putting pressure on party members”. He went onto say that there should not be a second power center within the party.

Last year, Panda, without naming IAS officer Pandian, had hinted on multiple occasion that the said officer had assumed unfathomable clout within party politics crossing his “Lakshman rekha“. IAS officers running the state is not a new phenomenon either. During his tenure, chief secretary Bijay Patnaik wielded immense authority. Former chief secretary and close aide of Naveen Patnaik Late Shri Pyari Mohan Mohapatra was expelled from party following his attempted coup when Naveen was in London. Pyari was so powerful during his tenure in the party that, his residence was nicknamed Sahid Nagar Power Centre as every file had to pass through his residence at Sahid Nagar, an upscale locality in Bhubaneswar. The industrialists had to make a beeline at his residence to get their projects approved.

Essentially, this suspension could be a result of either babu-politician nexus in state politics or insecurity of Naveen Patnaik.

Panda has expressed his shock and dejection at the suspension and has denied all charges against him as false and baseless.

The suspension has generated widespread reaction in Odisha political quarters. While BJP leaders are heaving praises on Panda, Congress leader Ganeswar Behera who also hails from Kendrapara and has seen Panda’s work from close quarter, terms this unfortunate and a loss to BJD. BJP senior leader Biswabhusan Harichandan has described the suspension as “Cheap Mentality” of BJD. He has, on record, submitted that BJP will surely consider Panda’s induction, if Panda shows interest.

Post this suspension, Odisha politics in general and Kendrapara politics in particular is going to be very interesting. It is almost a no brainer that Panda will not jump ships right now. Anti-defection law mandates a by-election if a sitting MP or MLA resigns from party (he has been suspended, not expelled thus he can’t join another party yet) and neither BJD nor BJP want an election right now.

What remains to be seen is, whom will BJD chose to take on Panda, if he decides to contest from BJP party ticket from Kendrapara in 2019. Former party senior member Bijaya Mahapatra, who had defected to BJP, has been expelled from BJP’s district committee and has dropped enough hints that he may rejoin BJD. He is a senior and popular leader in Kendrapara area. The other name that comes to fore is Atanu Sabyasachi, but his clout is limited to Mahanga and Mahakalapada area. Another senior party leader from BJD, Pratap Singh Deb, who also hails from a royal family in Kendrapara, has already been nominated as Rajya Sabha member.

Though Panda enjoys popular support in Kendrapara, his volunteer base is no match to BJD’s. The contest is surely going to hot up the political climate in Kendrapara.

Another equation that can’t be discounted is, in Panda BJP may have finally found a credible face for its CM candidate to counter the TINA factor which is believed to have given Naveen an edge in Odisha electoral politics. Where does it leave Dharmendra Pradhan then? Though BJP is not known to give top posts to new joiners, this will be an interesting situation where BJP needs a face. Well these are all speculation right now but definitely something to look forward to as things evolve.

One only hopes that the people of Kendrapara and Odisha get a good deal from this competitive politics and their aspirations are fulfilled.

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