BHUBANESWAR: On March 15 this year, when the BJP lost by-polls in UP and Bihar, the BJD supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reacted, “We can see the BJP is sinking… it is sinking quite fast.” The remarks, uncharacteristic of the usually reticent and undemonstrative leader, were music to the ears of the Opposition. But little did one realise then that Naveen would be the one to not only keep the BJP and NDA boat afloat but also help steer it away from choppy waters.
On Thursday, Naveen’s BJD did it again by virtually scripting the victory of NDA nominee Harivansh Narayan Singh as Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson. This time it was no surprise, for the regional party’s way of working things in the Parliament had already fallen into a pattern. The party’s explanation that it decided to support JD(U) since both have similar ideology and that the Congress candidate was AICC in-charge of Odisha till recently did not cut much ice. A phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Naveen had already sealed the deal since Monday. While Naveen may be insistent on being equidistant from both the BJP and Congress, BJD approach in the Parliament has dispelled all such notions.
Naveen has sided with Modi on almost all issues from demonetisation, GST, President election and simultaneous polls to the latest Deputy Chairperson election. On demonetisation, when even allies have over time expressed their displeasure on its implementation, Naveen has been steadfast in support. In the recent vote on no-confidence motion against Modi Government, the BJD staged a dramatic walkout even before the debate commenced, giving an advantage to BJP from the start. His absence from the much-hyped display of Opposition unity at Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy swearing-in also poured cold water over Maha Gathbandhan hopes.
The Opposition is expectedly fuming at the conspicuous BJDBJP bonhomie at the national level. Odisha Congress president Niranjan Patnaik termed it as an alliance already formed. Still, Naveen’s political gameplan is intriguing. Some quarters do believe that by turning it into a State Naveen and Centre Modi sentiment, the Chief Minister is trying to thwart any anti-incumbency build-up. True, the BJP had given a jolt in the last year’s Panchayat elections by winning significant number of seats and making inroads into BJD strongholds.
But the adroit politician that Naveen is, he did not let the situation to get onto him and instead, unleashed a renewed Naveen Patnaik with a plethora of public welfare initiatives reaching out to every section. The result – a serious drubbing of the emerging challenger BJP in the subsequent polls. As things stand, BJD continues to be in the pole position in the State with no visible face against Naveen Patnaik. The BJP noise and its clarion call of Mission 120 in Odisha have gone silent – deliberate or otherwise. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan who fancied himself as an alternative to Naveen Patnaik appears to have been subdued lately, both in tenor and frequency of attacks.
The Opposition attributes it to the CBI stick wielded by BJP over the multi-crore chit fund scam with alleged involvement of many BJD leaders that has forced Naveen’s hands. But all said and done, Naveen is not a politician who can be browbeaten into submission. Though professing equidistance, the BJD is more stridently anti-Congress in its stand and has a natural affinity for BJP by being in alliance for long years. Further, Naveen doesn’t foresee a Congress coming to power in 2019 and thus, BJD stance can be well understood.