This is why Naveen Patnaik won’t join the anti-Modi Mahagathbandhan

Karnataka elections opened a new paradigm in Indian politics. For political watchers, it is becoming increasingly clear that Congress having realised its dwindling fortunes has put its dream of coming back to power on the back burner for the time being. Keeping BJP out of power has become Congress’s primary purpose even if that means playing second fiddle to a smaller party. This has brought together many regional satraps under one umbrella to form a “Maha Gathbandhan” against BJP. N Chandrababu Naidu has already announced that all regional parties are coming together in 2019 to defeat BJP.

If we notice the leaders those were present on HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony, which even brought left and Trinamool together to share a stage, a key regional leader who was not present was Naveen Patnaik. BJD commanding 20 out of 21 seats in Odisha is currently the 4th largest party among opposition after Congress(44), AIADMK(37) and Trinamool(34). That’s a significant number and Naveen Patnaik joining the alliance can sway the numbers remarkably. However, in this post, I will try to analyse, why that is unlikely to happen.

Let’s first look at factors which bring together these leaders under one umbrella. Congress, of course, is facing an existential crisis and needs to be in reckoning by some way or the other. Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, both have Prime Ministerial ambition and are wishing for a fractured mandate in which they can bargain and get the coveted post or at least a ministry in North or South block.

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What is also significant here is, they need weaken BJP to regain power in UP as BJP is a threat to them in their home as well. No such imminent threat for Mamata as recent trends may suggest but BJP is rising in Bengal and she needs to thwart that as soon as possible. Besides, her bigger ambitions are quite well known to all. She has publicly expressed displeasure over Congress’s remark that Rahul is ready to hoist the Tricolor at Lal Qilla after next elections. She also has travelled to Delhi to weave together an anti-BJP alliance to project herself as the leader of any such alliance if it becomes reality.

Tejaswi Yadav may not have as big an ambition as being PM but he would definitely scrounge for something big in Delhi. He knows he is not senior enough to be in North or South block. However, he will definitely try for other biggies like Railway for obvious reasons. Also, RJD needs to remove BJP to regain power in Bihar. Andhra Pradesh contributes 25 seats to LS and NCBN can also be a kingmaker if he can tilt numbers game and if fortune favours, he may take a shot at the PM post or at least the big 4. JD(S), of course, needs to cling on to save it from being inconsequential. As HDS’s recent statements suggest, he is ready to play a puppet to 10 Janpath as long as that keeps his CM seat in Karnataka safe. Sharad Pawar just needs to be in government, the position hardly matters to him, power does.

So, if we analyse, these are the broad reasons to form an anti-BJP alliance:

  • PM ambition
  • Cabinet ambition
  • Thwart regional threat by BJP
  • Existential crisis
  • Appeasement politics

As things stand today, Naveen Patnaik doesn’t fall into any of these categories. Neither Naveen nor BJD has any big national ambitions. In the 1999-2004 NDA govt, when BJD was part of the government, Naveen Patnaik was Steel & Mines minister as an independent charge. That’s as high as BJD has gotten as far as the central cabinet is concerned but BJD doesn’t complain about that. BJD broke up with BJP in 2009 and got 14 seats alone. Had they joined UPA, they would have been the 4th largest party, bigger than NCP. Naveen’s vision is clear as far as the road to power is concerned. He wants to rule Odisha and there is no imminent threat by any party, including BJP, to his regional ambition. Therefore, there is no strong reason on that ground, as to why he would join hands with Congress to keep BJP out either at the centre or in the state.

BJD essentially came to being primarily as an opponent of the Congress misrule post-1999 cyclone fiasco and corruption in relief distribution. BJD, in fact, has gotten better deals being in opposition, during BJP rule than Congress rule. Congress has a history of showering benefits to state which have a favourable government. BJP has not shown any such traits. 2 cabinet ministers are currently from Odisha. Odisha has got 5443 KMs of the national highway during 4 years of BJP rule against 1311 KMs of the highway during 10 years of UPA rule. Railway fund allocation has been doubled and projects expedited. Sambalpur-Titlagad-Kantabanji doubling, electrification, Sambalpur-Jharsuguda electrification, Cuttack-Barang doubling have all been completed during last 4 years apart from many ongoing new lines and doubling projects. In fact, one of the most sought-after Khurdha Road-Bolangir lines which will connect the central Odisha to coastal Odisha in the East got approved in 1994 but work began only in 2015 after Suresh Prabhu sanctioned funds. Currently, 42 KMs out of 240 KMs is complete and a pair of trains have already started plying on it.

State govt share in mining royalty share has also been increased, something that Naveen Patnaik holds close to his heart and tried spearheading a group of CMs demanding this during UPA rule but to no avail. UDAN scheme has identified 4 airports in Odisha giving a much-needed push to aviation and communication to state hinterlands and Maoist infested areas. 2 of them have already gotten DGCA certificate and scheduled flights will begin operation shortly. New ports have come up in Odisha at Gopalpur and Dhamra and Sagarmala aims to connect all these 3 ports with better connectivity.

Given, Naveen Patnaik is not keen on a central ministry and there is no imminent threat from either BJP or Congress to his local ambitions, it is only natural that he will continue with his stated “equidistance” position. Also, an NDA government at centre favours him more than a UPA government. Hence, there is no reason why would he join hands with UPA to stop NDA forming government.

Of course, the usual disclaimers like, “politics makes strange bed mates”, “1 year is a long time in Indian politics” etc do apply here.

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