Naveen needs to put BJD back in fighting shape

However, after the BJP reaped electoral dividend by targeting Pandian for his ‘outsider’ status, the former bureaucrat quit active politics.
BJD leader and 5T chairman VK Pandian (L) with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik during a poll rally.
BJD leader and 5T chairman VK Pandian (L) with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik during a poll rally.File Photo | Express

The summer of 2024 was supposed to be Naveen Patnaik’s perfect season to walk into the sunset. Instead, the Biju Janata Dal supremo now has a heavy cross to bear. For the first time in 24 years, he will be among the opposition benches when the new state assembly convenes in Odisha. His shock defeat has not just thrown the BJD in at the deep end, the regional party might well be looking at an existential crisis too.

For the outgoing chief minister, it presents more challenges than one. The BJD is mandated to play the opposition’s role in the assembly, for which Naveen will have to take up a critical task. A constant criticism he faced after the pandemic was his absence from the floor of the assembly. That must change if his party is to take on the BJP. The performance of the principal opposition party and its leader will be under close watch for the next five years.

The real challenge will be outside the legislature. The BJD looks to be in disarray, grappling with the loss and growing murmurs about accountability. In the last five years, the BJD was shadow-run by bureaucrat-turned-politician V K Pandian, Naveen’s close aide. His diktat was supreme, so much so that even senior party leaders with decades of experience answered to him. It was he who formulated the election strategy and candidate selection.

However, after the BJP reaped electoral dividend by targeting Pandian for his ‘outsider’ status, the former bureaucrat quit active politics. While this may not be the last time one hears from him yet, the BJD chief will have to look forward. It is upon him to put the pieces together and, clearly, age is not on his side. The 77-year-old has been the singular face of the BJD since its inception 27 years ago and, as is the case with most regional parties, he did not groom a strong second line of leadership.

Many of his current crop of legislators are young and first-timers, while the seasoned faces are sidelined. So the biggest threat will be from the BJP. The saffron party, with 78 legislators, is unlikely to sit quiet with the win. Naveen is certain to face an uphill task to keep his flock together in the days to come.

BJD leader and 5T chairman VK Pandian (L) with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik during a poll rally.
Despite BJD’s loss, Naveen’s popularity remains unscathed in Odisha

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