Jay Panda Versus BJD: Something Had To Give

by Swarajya Staff - Jan 26, 2018 09:07 PM +05:30 IST
Jay Panda Versus BJD: Something Had To Give Jay Panda (Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)
  • Why Jay Panda finds himself out of his party today

Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency, Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, was today suspended from his party, the Biju Janta Dal (BJD).

“BJD chief Naveen Patnaik suspends MP Baijayant Panda from the party on disciplinary grounds,” said party vice president, S N Patro.

Panda’s suspension doesn’t come as a surprise to a large extent. In fact, in the last few days it had become apparent that something had to give.

The opposition to Jay Panda seems to have been three-pronged. The first was from the Mahanga Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the Health Minister of Odisha, Pratap Jena, who, reports say, feels sidelined by the popularity of the Twitter-savvy Panda and has also tried to allegedly disrupt the MP’s public meets. Jena has also said that Panda does not favour consensus for the use of Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds and that has caused discontent among people.

Earlier, last year, when Panda was to inaugurate a water tank in Mahanga, Jena said angry locals would not allow him to enter the area. Refusing to cow down and standing by his pet project, Panda continued with the plan and was met by hooligans who hurled eggs at him. A similar incident again played out recently in the Nischintakoili block, precipitating a major fall-out between Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the Kendrapara MP.

However, there is another side to this story. For years, in hushed voices, every politically savvy Odia, including Panda, has spoken about the all-encompassing presence of the private secretary of the Chief Minister, V Kartikeyan Pandian. The secretary has been associated with the Chief Minister since 2011, and even though he is a bureaucrat, it appears that he is a major power centre in the party. He is often called the Chanakya of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and nothing in the party is said to happen without his consent. A number of current BJD leaders, and those who have left the party, have shared the same thoughts as Panda and have said that Pandian directs the Chief Minister and is clearly misusing his position. The open criticism by leaders, and most prominently, Panda, has put him at loggerheads with Pandian, and that has further embittered the Chief Minister against him.

Panda has been a vocal critic of the party of late and had even penned an article for a regional newspaper asking the party to introspect in the wake of the defections of party leaders towards the BJP and the resurgence of the national party in the state panchayat elections. Patnaik is not seen to handle criticism well and Panda had been immediately removed from his position as the party spokesperson. He further went on to say that there are power-hungry bureaucrats who are eating away at the credentials of the party by supporting corrupt leaders and condoning hooliganism. He even invoked the name of the late chief minister Biju Patnaik and asked people to take a stand against the bureaucrats who cross the lines of their service.

The BJD, on the other hand, said that Panda is speaking the language of the BJP and Dharmendra Pradhan in the state, and should ideally air his discontent privately. A common sentiment in the state is that Panda is favourably disposed towards the BJP and may jump ship at the right time. But, Panda has time and again refuted this assumption and said his criticism is directed towards the improvement of the party that he has been a part of since its inception.

He responded to his suspension from the party with this tweet:

There is no doubt that Panda has been cornered both by the Chief Minister and from the grassroots, where Jena does not hide his animosity for Panda. The Chief Minister had ordered an enquiry on Panda, and Pramila Mallick, the district observer of Kendrapara, echoed the accusations of the MLA. In her report, she concluded that the allocation of MPLAD funds had been done without the consent of the local leaders.

But the grave discontent of the MLA and local leaders towards the allocation of the MPLAD funds throws open more questions. Kendrapara for years has been reeling under acute water shortage with a depleting water table. Panda’s ambitious project of providing 52 overhead water tanks can only be seen as addressing one of the most important concerns of the people he represents. This throws open the possibility that local leaders wanted the MPLAD funds to be used as a political bargaining chip to curry favour and the same has been thwarted by Panda. This could be at the root of the animosity against him.

But, what was more unfortunate was the complete disregard of the party high command towards the clearly politically motivated attacks against him. There has no strong word against Jena even after the repeated veiled threats while the investigation against Panda was ordered immediately.

Patnaik has long enjoyed the favour and the goodwill of the people of Odisha as a clean, no-nonsense leader with zero tolerance for corruption and goon behaviour. Sadly, that is where the party appears to be descending and calls for introspection are being treated as threats. Patnaik’s silence at certain times and vocal opposition to others reveal a certain amount of arrogance that earlier seemed alien to him. It could be possible that the responses are being triggered elsewhere.

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