Does Naveen Patnaik Even Know BJD’s History?

by Saswat Panigrahi - Apr 8, 2017 11:24 AM +05:30 IST
Does Naveen Patnaik Even Know BJD’s History? Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (PTI)
  • Naveen Patnaik recently denied the claim that the BJP had a significant role to play in the BJD’s formation.

    It is important to turn over the pages of Odisha’s political history to get the right perspective on the formation of the BJD.

Have you heard Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik’s recent comment on the formation of his party? Patnaik was responding to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Odisha unit president Basant Panda’s statement that the BJP had played a significant role in the formation of the BJD. “It is absolutely false and baseless,” Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

It is important to turn over the pages of Odisha’s political history to get the right perspective on the formation of the BJD.

The assembly election of 1995 had just been over. Congress’s Janaki Ballabh Patnaik was re-elected as chief minister, defeating Biju Patnaik’s Janata Dal.

Biju babu, who was in the evening of his life, realised that without a coalition with the BJP it would not be possible to defeat the Congress in Odisha. After a few rounds of meetings between Biju Patnaik and his party lieutenants on one side and the BJP top brass Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani on the other, it was decided that Biju babu would join hands with the BJP in due course to bring down the Congress in Odisha. It was then BJP strategist Pramod Mahajan who had initiated the meeting.

The year was 1997. Biju babu had passed away. A groundswell of sympathy was blowing in Odisha in favour of the legendary leader. To cash in on that sympathy wave, Mahajan met Biju legacy leaders. Many of them were more than willing to merge the Odisha unit of the Janata Dal with the BJP. But, it was Mahajan who proposed the idea to float a party in the name of Biju babu and its alliance with the BJP to bring down the Congress. This was something the Janata leaders could not help but accept.

The BJD was formed in December 1997 and its alliance with the BJP was forged in February 1998. It is said that all the formative logistics for the BJD were initially provided by the BJP.

After Biju Patnaik’s demise, Janata Dal sought a candidate for Aska Lok Sabha constituency. It was then BJD strategist Bijoy Mohapatra who brought Naveen Patnaik from pen to politics. Patnaik retained his father’s citadel in 1997 by-election with a huge margin and was elected to the eleventh Lok Sabha. Meanwhile, it was again Mohapatra who proposed Patnaik’s name to lead the party.

Then, in the assembly election of 2000, Odisha voted en bloc for the BJP-BJD coalition as the state was seeking change after the Congress regime led by J B Patnaik was marked by mass corruption and had severely compromised the state’s development curve. Riding on an anti-Congress wave, the BJP-BJD coalition swept the assembly election and Naveen Patnaik became chief minister.

Friends of Patnaik say he suffers from paranoia. After he became chief minister, the first thing he did was to fire his mentor Mohapatra. Subsequently, he withdrew another BJD founder Dilip Ray from the Union Cabinet and then axed him from the party. Both Mohapatra and Ray are presently with the BJP.

After over a decade-long coalition with the BJP, Patnaik ditched the saffron party on the eve of the 2009 election. The decision was ruthless and surprised many.

Ever since Patnaik took the reins of the state, he virtually swept every election with a clear majority. But the recent panchayat election in Odisha has delivered a body blow to Patnaik and his BJD. The BJP has succeeded in taking a giant stride in Odisha politics, leaving the BJD in a tailspin. After the panchayat election, there is fear lurking in the BJD that the party will disintegrate.

Lutyens’ media says Patnaik has a “clean image.” But his squeaky-clean image has been blown into pieces ever since a wave of scams has hit Odisha hard. With governance currently in shambles, Patnaik’s dispensation is becoming unpopular by the day.

The writer is a senior journalist based out of Delhi. He writes on politics, policy, national interest and cultural nationalism. He tweets at @SaswatPanigrahi.

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