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What’s cooking in Odisha politics?

Dr Damodar Rout, ex-senior leader of Biju Janata Dal was dismissed from BJD by party president Naveen Patnaik, on 12th September. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though. Dama, as he is popularly called, is known to be a motormouth and speaks out of turn which often embarrasses the party in the public sphere. Perhaps the last straw was when he accused BJD of being run by 3 MLAs Debashish Samantray, Arun Sahoo and Bobby (Pranab Prakash) Das led by an officer. Who is the officer he was hinting at, is anybody’s guess.

Dama was perhaps the last senior member of the party, who was associated with it since its inception. All other members have been systematically driven out. Naveen Patnaik is now the only person in the party carrying forward the legacy, whatever of it is left, of Biju Patnaik. Dama, though a motormouth, is not entirely wrong when he says that party is run by the younger lot. Of course, the final decision lies with the supremo but the daily affairs of the party are definitely being taken care of by the younger lot which doesn’t go well with seasoned members who feel they are being sidelined in the party. That is one of the primary reason, seniors have been revolted in the past and shown the door.

Amongst the founding members, late Nalini Mohanty, Dilip Ray and Bijay Mahapatra were the first in the lot to be been dismissed from BJD in early 2000 for their “utterances against Naveen Patnaik”. BJD has seen a series of dismissal of senior leaders over the years. The significant being Late Pyarimohan Mohapatra, Prafulla Ghadai, Jairam Pangi. Jay Panda and Dama being the latest to fall prey. Reasons are the same, barring Pyari who allegedly tried a coup against Naveen when he was in London. Dilip Ray, Jairam Pangi and Bijay Mohapatra have joined BJP and Dilip Ray is currently an MLA. Except Dilip Ray, most leaders have faded into oblivion after being expelled.

There have been other similarities as well. These leaders, after being expelled, have tried their fortune with forming new regional outfits. While Bijay Mohapatra tried with Odisha Gana Parishad(OGP) which later merged with INC, Pyari babu experimented with Odisha Jana Morcha. To say, these were failures, will be to put it politely.

Jay Panda, who was thought to be close to BJP, has not taken any decision yet. On one occasion, he has hinted that he is still open to contesting as an independent or forming a new party and implied about his bigger ambition. The reason why Jay Panda has not taken any decision on his political future may lie in the fact that, though he was seen close to BJP, he isn’t viewing BJP as the party which can fulfil his bigger ambitions or it may be the other way around. BJP leadership may be wary of what Panda can bring to the table.

Dama babu has also hinted at something similar. In fact, he has made it clear that while he won’t be joining BJP or Congress, he will definitely contest elections and one doesn’t need a party ticket to serve people. Of course, it’s the politician Dama Rout speaking and must be taken with a pinch of salt. Dama has gone as far as naming all those who have been expelled from BJD to come together and form a new party to contest elections in 2019.

It’s interesting to note that soon after news of his dismissal became public, Jay Panda paid him a courtesy visit, which of course in public is said to be non-political. It will be worthwhile to mention that both Dilip Ray and Bijay Mohapatra are unhappy in BJP as well. Bijay Mahapatra may not even get a BJP ticket to contest while Dilip Ray may opt out from contesting with a BJP ticket if the central leadership doesn’t fix things. Dama has named both of these gentlemen along with others to come together and pose a challenge to BJD.

However, Naveen’s popularity has not seen a great dent. He still is the undisputed popular leader of Odisha. A new party with political heavyweights may not see any remarkable success. Ideologically, if this party is to be formed, it will be more leaning towards BJP. What it can do best is to cut vote shares of BJP and in some cases BJD, but going by past precedents it is unlikely that the party will see any significant electoral fortunes. Maybe, like OGP, which since its formation had allied with Congress before merging with it, this new party may try similar experiments with BJP.

2019 elections are still a few months away and as they say, a week is a long time in politics. Nonetheless, interesting times are in store for Odisha politics.

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