Will he? Will he not? The question gained momentum as Baijayant Panda, who was widely speculated to join BJP post his resignation from BJD and the post of MP in June last year, delayed his move. Jay Panda’s relationship with BJD was on a roller coaster since 2014. After 2016, the relationship nosedived and the spats became public. The hostility reached a point where Jay Panda was dismissed as party’s spokesperson following which, he resigned from the party and MP post in June 2018.
Post his resignation, he had been holding public rallies and meetings all over the state starting from Western Odisha, to Central and Coastal belt as well. He had meetings with other disgruntled BJD and BJP leaders as well. This started the speculation of the 4th front in Odisha which was to be non-aligned and will be presented as an alternative to BJD. There were other speculations of Panda contesting in Kendrapara as an independent with the active support of Congress, who won’t file any candidate in the constituency.
However, putting all such conspiracies to rest, Jay Panda joined BJP on 4th March, 9 months after his resignation. Panda was inducted into BJP at a function in New Delhi where Amit Shah, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram along with other senior party functionaries from BJP Odisha unit were present.
Nine months of introspection & widespread consultations w/colleagues & public.
Grateful for support recd from all over.
On auspicious #MahaShivratri I’ve decided to join @BJP4India & work under the leadership of @narendramodi Ji to serve Odisha & India to the best of my ability?
— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) March 4, 2019
Jay Panda is seen as an erudite, well researched and well-spoken political leader from Odisha, who has the required access and influence in central politics. How much of this will help BJP’s fortune in Odisha remains to be seen. But let’s take a look at what Panda brings to the table for Odisha BJP.
First and foremost, post his resignation, he has been touring the state and is able to garner good crowd responses, especially in Kendrapara, Dhenkanal and Bargarh which also happens to be his maternal place. It is evident that he brings some public goodwill into the party. Only time will tell how much of this can be converted into votes. It’s to be noted here that 4 time BJD MP from Dhenkanal, Shri Tathagata Satapathy is retiring from active politics. Panda has some good base in there and actively touring the district since last few days. He can help capture the swing votes in Dhenkanal, a BJD bastion for 15 years.
It is also believed that Bhartuhari Mahatab will not get LS ticket from Cuttack this time. BJP candidate from Cuttack, Shri Samir Dey, is a spent force. Some quarters believe that Panda may pitch himself from Cuttack and put a candidate at Kendrapara who enjoys his active support. There is a likelihood of Bijoy Mahapatra returning to BJP after his resignation in Nov last year. He still is a popular leader in Kendrapara. With the active support of Panda, he may be just able to pull it off.
BJP has some tall leaders in Western and Central Odisha; Leaders like Suresh Pujari from Sambalpur, Jual Oram from Sundargarh, Dharmendra Pradhan from Debgarh, KV Singhdeo from Bolangir enjoy an immense reputation in their district as well as some neighbouring districts. Speculations are rife that BJP may field Dr Sambit Patra from Puri and Dr Lekhashree from Balasore. However, none of them is a known face with the general populace. With the induction of Panda, BJP just might be able to fit that missing piece in coastal Odisha. He is a well-known name in the coastal belt and he can certainly be the party’s face here.
Another major resource that Jay Panda brings with him is media patronage in the form of OTV which is owned by the Panda family and is managed by Jay Panda’s wife Jagi Mangat Panda. As per November, BARC data, OTV is the largest and most viewed Odia news channel. It attracts more than double the viewership of its closest competitors combined, which are owned by BJD RS members. BJD has officially boycotted OTV since June last year but it’s party’s loss to boycott the channel which is right there on the top among Odia entertainment and music channels.
Jay Panda’s family owns one of the largest business houses in Odisha. Panda’s induction will infuse money and other resources into party’s coffers in Odisha which BJD and Congress have no dearth of, courtesy 19 years of unbridled power and Niranjan Patnaik respectively.
However, it’s not all favourable with Panda’s entry into BJP. Naveen’s vindictiveness is well known. He doesn’t stop at anything less than total political obliteration of his bête noire. Naveen has sent multiple feelers that he is open to all options with BJP but Panda is non-negotiable. A theory that is doing rounds is, that the BJP central leadership stopped the induction of Panda so far because they wanted to keep the doors of reconciliation with BJD open if such a situation arises. However, taking Panda into BJP clearly antagonises Naveen. It may close all such doors of reconciliation whatsoever.
BJP is a cadre-based party and unless it is a Greenfield state where the party has no organisation, a newcomer will never be given the top job. Consider Himanta Biswa Sarma, the architect of BJP’s uprising in NE. He single-handedly architected party’s spectacular performance in NE in and outside Assam. Still, Sarbananda got the top job because, again, it’s a cadre-based party. With this in mind, it’s anybody’s guess what Panda will get irrespective of the election fortune he may be able to bring in. He must have factored this in before taking the leap. It will be interesting to watch the new innings Baijayant Panda’s political career.