Naveen Patnaik has finally cracked the whip. For the first time in his fourth term as chief minister, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo has done what he does best—shown the door to 10 ministers with doubtful integrity and for non-performance. With the Sunday reshuffle, Naveen has sent out a clear message: He will no longer put up with the growing criticism of having retained leaders whose presence in the ministry brought him constant embarrassment for the last three years.
Known for wielding the axe when his political image was at stake, Naveen remained silent far too long but the panchayat poll results came as the last straw. Some of these ministers’ alleged involvement in scams and their conduct in public life were also used as a weapon by the Opposition which has gained an upper hand in the political space of Odisha in recent times. With the next general elections barely two years away, the BJD chief had to act swiftly as he could sense that public disenchantment with his party was increasing. While he has ensured that his image as a transparent political leader is not subject to examination, Naveen will still be asked tough questions for choosing some old hands who have been under the scanner over probity in public life.
This reshuffle, a major move ahead of the elections, has also left as many as 18 districts unrepresented. Non-representation in six out of eight districts in western Odisha in which the BJP did well has already led to murmurs of dissidence within the BJD. Similarly, Naveen has also blanked out a number of tribal-dominated districts, mostly in southern Odisha, in his new ministry. These districts have long been major vote pockets for Naveen and a feeling of alienation is anything but natural. This could well be the team with which the BJD will go to the 2019 elections. He, therefore, must ensure that this team delivers and recreates a favourable public perception if it has to counter the emergence of BJP in the state.