“Our policy is consistently to remain equidistant from BJP and Congress”, on 10th January 2019, BJP party supremo and CM Naveen Patnaik had said this while speaking on India Today Mindrocks conclave at Bhubaneswar. Fast forward to the election campaign of 2019, Naveen ditching his decade long policy of nonalignment announced that BJD is open to support any government at the centre that fulfils just demands of Odisha. A couple of weeks later, the official confirmation came from party spokesperson Surjyo Narayan Patro making it clear in no unambiguous term that the party will not adopt the equal distance policy anymore.
Naveen has maintained his equidistance policy since 2009 after breaking alliance with BJP and getting separated from NDA. He never has had any national ambition unlike most of his regional contemporaries. Even while being part of NDA, BJD never bargained for any plum post. So, what changed in 3 months. Why is BJD singing a new tune? There can be 2 explanations for this.
Naveen senses NDA to fall short of majority mark where he can play the kingmaker. By virtue of this, he can coerce the government of the day to meet the long-standing just demands of Odisha vis-a-vis special category status, getting the infrastructure and industrial projects for the state and so on. However, this theory of ditching equidistance policy for Odisha’s interest doesn’t hold water. Odisha has been at the bottom of the growth table for a long time despite Naveen’s government is at the helm for 19 years. It isn’t that, all of a sudden, in 2019, Odisha has demands and aspiration. To get the government at the centre to listen to Odisha’s demand, there were ample opportunities when UPA 1&2 worked under “Coalition compulsion”. Even with a full majority, NDA government gave plum ministries to its allies. Naveen could have tried these avenues for getting Odisha’s due in return. But he didn’t.
Another theory is, Naveen is wary of assembly results. His focus is clear. He needs to rule the state. There is no national ambition, no desire of any ministry, no ambiguity whatsoever. By ditching nonalignment, he has sent a signal to BJP that, if you fall short of a majority, I am your friend. But, you have to reciprocate, if the situation demands. Feelers have been sent from both sides. Naveen, whose primary line of attack during the campaign was centre’s neglect towards Odisha in times of natural calamity has thanked Modi government during relief and restoration of Fani, the cyclone that recently ravaged Odisha coast. The praise has been reciprocated from the other side as well. Naveen’s bête noire in this election season, Dharmendra Pradhan has gone beyond usual courtesy when he came to see off Naveen at IGI airport on the latter’s recent visit to Delhi. Even, party president Amit Shah has praised Naveen for conducting elections peacefully while speaking at a rally in Kolkata.
So what are we looking at post-23rd May? In the event, that both BJP gets a majority at centre and BJD gets a majority in the state, the talk of extending support won’t even arise. Ditching equidistance will meet a silent death. If BJP falls short of a majority, Naveen, as promised, will extend support on the condition of meeting long-standing demands of Odisha. If the case happens to be, Modi government getting majority while Naveen falls short of the magic number in the state, BJP will play the junior partner in Odisha, as it did from 2000-2009 while trying to cement its base further at cadre level.
In the 3rd case where BJD doesn’t get a majority and seeks support, BJP should play it to its advantage. Playing a junior partner in an alliance has never helped the party. UP with Mayawati, Maharashtra, J&K and Odisha where it was in government for 9 years along with BJD are ample examples. It should bite the bullet and go for the kill. And there is no way BJD is going to yield to this. Hence, there are 2 other options that remain. Re-election, which favours BJP. The second option is BJD forming government with Congress which will make sure the party dies a natural death as the party came to power on an anti-Congress plank.
All of these still remain grapevine. However, the pre-emptive declaration by BJD to ditch equidistance has set the rumour mills in motion. It’s not for no reason that a seasoned politician like Naveen will ditch his political stance of nonalignment for a decade. How all of this is going play out will depend on the numbers on 23rd. Till then, let’s enjoy the bonhomie between BJP and BJD netas till it lasts.