Naveen Patnaik seems to be turning uncharacteristically vindictive

Odisha politics is on a roller coaster these days. The tussle between ruling BJD and a resurgent BJP is taking epic proportions with every passing day. It was only last month when BJD party president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik suspended Baijayant Panda for “anti-party activities”. Now the BJD has lodged an official complaint with Election Commission against an Odia media channel OTV, owned by Panda’s family, of showing paid news in favour of BJP to help them in the upcoming Bijepur assembly by poll and demanded this expense to be added to BJP candidate Ashok Panigrahi’s poll expenditure.

Bijepur, an assembly constituency in Bargarh district of Western Odisha is going to polls on 24th February after its incumbent MLA Late Shri Subal Sahu of the Congress party passed away battling cancer in August last year. This by poll is being seen as a curtain raiser for 2019 assembly poll, hence both the parties have taken it as a prestige battle. While BJD has fielded Ritarani Sahu, wife of late Subal Sahu as its candidate, BJP has fielded ex BJD MLA from Bijepur itself, Shri Ashok Panigrahi. Both parties are going all gun blazing to secure this lone seat. BJP is trying to prove its resurgence after the favourable panchayat polls last year, at the same time BJD is desperate to convince that after 20 years of rule, it is still a force to be reckoned with.

Though the one-upmanship game is not new in politics, yesterday it took an ugly turn when BJD went to Election Commission with an official complaint against OTV, a news channel owned by Panda’s family and accused it of showing paid news to favour BJP in the by poll.

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While the complaint looks amateurish and amusing to many, what is particularly surprising in this case is the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself taking to Social Media to express his discontent for the way OTV has been running their show. It is not very usual for Naveen Patnaik to vent his ire publicly.

Though he is known to be a strict taskmaster and doesn’t take indiscipline lightly, one could rarely find his public outburst. As we reported earlier, suspensions are not new to BJD. It’s rather a routine affair. But rarely Naveen himself, publicly, has gone after an ex-party member or disgruntled leader. It shows there is more than that meets the eye regarding Panda’s suspension. Naveen was never known, publicly, to be so personally vindictive.

One theory could be, most senior party leaders had bid goodbye to their political careers after being suspended from BJD. Though their individual leadership capabilities are unquestioned, it seemed they drew their power from the party symbol. Once detached, their political career saw a sunset. However, Panda doesn’t seem to be a spent force post-suspension from BJD. And this may be making Naveen nervous. The reason why this tug-of-war is still going on weeks after his suspension from the party. Another theory could be, more than Naveen Patnaik himself, this may be his personal secretary VK Pandian’s doing after his political role is now the talk of the town.

There are other theories doing the rounds in Odisha political and media circles as well. Some are saying BJD is nervous about the by-poll as a resurgent BJP can sound the death knell for its 2019 ambitions. At the same time, OTV’s coverage of the recent Kunduli gang-rape case where a minor rape victim committed suicide, could be the tipping point as well. While the state government officials maintained that she was never raped, OTV broke the exclusive story where Odisha State Forensic Science Laboratory clearly pointed to the rape of the girl. Another laughable theory doing the rounds is, last week attack on CM’s private secretary VK Pandian by BJP activists was orchestrated by OTV itself. As per the charge, a reporter from OTV did a recce on Pandian’s house before the attack and gave a Green signal to BJP hoodlums when it was all clear. Senior media persons from the state are surprised at this complaint as the BJD leaders themselves use to give OTV a lot of importance. As a senior journalist, Sandip Sahu describes, “BJD leaders and ministers refused to start a presser without the OTV boom in attendance”.

Leaders from other parties have condemned this attempt by ruling party to muzzle media. “Surya Narayan Patra and Pratap Keshari Deb have no authority nor decision making powers to file such a complaint. It is being done with instruction from VK Pandian”, quipped senior Congress party member and MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati. Former party colleague and cabinet minister Dama Rout said that in a democracy, media is the 4th pillar and should never be muzzled.

Baijayant Panda on his part has termed these allegations as “Cheap politics” and advised BJD to use OTV’s neutral platform to communicate their view to the public.

Speaking to Opindia, he also termed BJD’s allegation in the complaint to EC, where the party has stated that Panda has been suspended for anti-party activities and false affidavit, as “totally wrong”. He mentioned that he has challenged the party to go to EC against the false affidavit case and BJD so far has not approached EC. He has declared all his incomes and remunerations as required by EC in his election affidavit. This is particularly interesting since CM Naveen Patnaik himself is facing a case of a false affidavit filed by state BJP leaders in the EC.

OTV has been topping the BARC ratings among all Odia media channels. Whether they have been partisan in last few days is for the viewers to decide. However, this set of allegations by BJD if not amusing, it’s certainly is amateurish and reeks of vindictiveness. It remains to be seen how the tussle turns out in the coming days as the polling day approaches.

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