Why Naveen Patnaik Wants BJD To Play The Role Of Opposition In Delhi And Bhubaneswar

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 25, 2024, 02:51 PM | Updated 02:54 PM IST

 Naveen Patnaik.
Naveen Patnaik.
  • Patnaik sees BJD's role as opposition crucial to preventing Congress from regaining strength in Odisha.
  • Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president and former Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik wants his party to play the role of a “strong and responsible” opposition in Parliament as well as the state legislature. 

    At a meeting with his party’s nine Rajya Sabha MPs (read this) on Monday (24 June), Patnaik asked them to oppose the BJP and highlight Odisha’s demands and concerns in the Upper House. 

    At another meeting with his senior party colleagues on Sunday (23 June), Patnaik told them that BJD will have to pitch itself as a strong opposition party in the state. 

    The BJD lost power to the BJP in the just-concluded assembly elections. While it failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat (the BJP won 20 while the Congress bagged one), the BJD won 51 seats in the 147-seat assembly while the BJP won 78, just four more than the majority mark of 74. 

    This marks the end of the bonhomie between the two parties which were allies from 1998 to 2009. Patnaik was a cabinet minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prime ministership. Even after parting ways in 2009, the two maintained cordial ties and the BJD often supported the Narendra Modi government inside and outside Parliament. 

    The BJD had, on numerous occasions, bailed out the BJP in Parliament, especially in the Rajya Sabha where the saffron party lacked the numbers. 

    The BJD had supported the BJP in the Rajya Sabha during the passage of crucial bills like the one that ended statehood of Jammu & Kashmir and did away with article 370, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the amendments to the UAPA and RTI Acts.

    The BJD had also voted against a no-confidence motion brought by a united opposition in Parliament last year. 

    The BJP and its allies have a combined strength of 113 in the 245-member Rajya Sabha at present. There are 14 vacancies now. 

    That means the NDA is two short of the majority mark at present. Of the 14 vacancies, the NDA is expected to win just six given its present strength in the state assemblies.

    That will leave it four short of the majority mark of 123 and the NDA will have to depend on the YSRCP, which has 11 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, for support to pass important bills and in case it faces another no-confidence motion. 

    But more than the Rajya Sabha, the BJD is poised to play the role of a strong opposition to the BJP in the state assembly. With 51 MLAs, the BJD is a powerful opposition bloc and is expected to mount a robust challenge to the BJP. 

    The decision to play the role of the “strong and responsible opposition” was driven by the BJD’s self-interest and not due to souring of ties between the top leadership of the two parties as some analysts infer. 

    “Relations between Naveen Patnaik and top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, are still very cordial. The acrimonious election campaign, especially the BJP’s harsh criticism of Patnaik and his assumed successor V K Pandian, have not affected personal ties between the leadership of the two parties. The BJD’s decision to play the role of a strong and vocal opposition, thus, has nothing to do with that,” said political analyst Debasish Panigrahi. 

    The decision was actually driven by Naveen Patnaik’s political instincts.

    “The BJD, by playing the role of a strong opposition, will deny opposition space to the Congress. If the BJD plays softball with the BJP, the Congress will emerge stronger and will eventually become the primary opposition party. And that will be detrimental to even the BJP since the BJP is intent on weakening the Congress wherever and whenever possible,” Panigrahi, who teaches political science at a private university in Bhubaneswar, told Swarajya

    That the ties between Patnaik and the BJP’s top leadership are congenial was evident at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi in Bhubaneswar two weeks ago. Patnaik was greeted effusively by Modi and other central BJP leaders. Modi and Patnaik were also seen deep in conversation with each other. 

    “BJD will play the role of a ‘vocal and strong opposition’ as its spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sasmit Patra said. But it will not play the role of a belligerent opposition unlike many constituents of the INDI Alliance. There is little chance of the BJD MPs in the Rajya Sabha joining the INDI Alliance MPs in the Upper House to oppose the government on every issue,” said Panigrahi. 

    A couple of senior BJD leaders who spoke to Swarajya confirmed this.

    “While we will be a strong opposition, there is no question of joining hands with the Congress or the communists (the CPI-M has one MLA) in the state assembly. The Congress with just 14 MLAs is a minor opposition party and we (the BJD) are intent on keeping it in the margins and styming its growth. So we will not allow the Congress to steal our thunder in the assembly. We cannot afford the Congress to occupy even a sizable share of the opposition space and there is no question of any floor coordination or joint programmes with the Congress,” said the BJD leader. 

    Incidentally, the BJD’s announcement that it will oppose the BJP in Parliament had enthused the INDI Alliance partners, especially the Congress. 

    According to another BJD leader and former cabinet minister who spoke to Swarajya, the Congress leadership sent feelers to one BJD Rajya Sabha MP on Monday (24 June) evening itself.

    The Congress offered the BJD its support in raising issues pertaining to Odisha and invited the BJD to join the larger Opposition bloc against the NDA. 

    The BJD Rajya Sabha MP conveyed the Congress’ offer to BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik. But Patnaik is learnt to have said that while the Congress is most welcome to support the BJD in the Rajya Sabha when it raises issues pertaining to Odisha, the Congress cannot expect any reciprocity in return. 

    Patnaik is learnt to be against the BJD MPs joining hands with the INDI Alliance partners in mindless opposition to the NDA.

    “Naveenbabu is very conscious of his own image and that of the BJD as a responsible and moderate political party. He is against being part of a perpetually belligerent and combative Opposition bloc led by the Congress,” said this BJD leader who is also close to Patnaik. 

    “He (Patnaik) has always advocated decency and maintaining proper decorum in politics. He strongly dislikes the hostile and acerbic speeches and actions of many opposition parties in the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, RJD, Samajwadi Party and some others in the INDI Alliance. So there is no question of joining them in mounting antagonistic attacks on the BJP in Parliament,” the BJD leader, who was part of Sunday’s meeting of top BJD leaders at Naveen Niwas, added. 

    Naveen Patnaik, it is learnt, told his Rajya Sabha MPs on Monday that even while raising issues pertaining to Odisha very strongly, proper decorum and civility must be maintained.

    “It is possible to oppose without being rancorous,” he is said to have told his party MPs. 

    The BJD’s decision to oppose the BJP both at the federal and state levels will, thus, not hurt the BJP much. In fact, it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the BJP since it will deny the Congress much opposition space in Odisha. 

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