BHUBANESWAR: The BJD strategy of fighting anti-incumbency based on its stated principle of keeping non-performing, tainted and unpopular MLAs away appears to be a smoke screen. Faced with rebellion, which was virtually unheard of till 2014, the party leadership and think-tank has dropped the facade of fielding clean and new leaders. Instead, those with questionable background have been stuck to. That’s not all. New faces chosen have come from the same eco-system because they have political leverage.
The latest round of nominations for the Assembly seats, mostly in coastal Odisha where the party has had a traditional stronghold, shows how Naveen Patnaik’s party has failed to walk the talk. It also betrays a sense of nervousness and lack of confidence over its prospects in the upcoming polls.
A whole set of former Ministers and MLAs, who have been renominated, were at one point of time or other were kept at arm’s length by the BJD boss over serious controversies they had courted in the past. Pradip Maharathy, former Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister, who was forced to quit the Cabinet in January because of his insensitive comments towards the alleged Pipili gangrape victim, has got the nod.
His is, however, not the only case. A number of ministers such as Sanjay Dasburma, Arun Sahu and Atanu Sabyasachi have made the cut despite the fact that they were dropped from the ministry by the Chief Minister at one point of time because the party found them too hot to handle.
Before the elections, when the party carried out its ground surveys to gauge the public mood towards its incumbent MLAs, it had made up the mind to drop 50-60 sitting legislators. After 19 years in power and having defied the Modi wave in 2014, anti-incumbency had emerged as a major factor to contend if the party wanted to retain its stronghold.
The party started off well when it announced candidates from southern and western districts. As many as six changes were effected in the first list of nine. But things did not work according to plan as it immediately triggered rebellion. Sitting MPs deserted the ship and came out openly against Naveen which was unprecedented.
Suddenly, the party felt the heat and with the deserters queuing up to BJP, it dropped its nerve. That it could not muster courage to handle the heat, was clear when the sons of MLAs Pravat Tripathy and Pravat Biswal, both facing chit fund scam charges, were fielded by the ruling outfit.
With the BJP rolling out grand welcome to the deserters, the BJD has sensed that the former’s Tripura-like upset claim is not a mere tokenism because it eventually is looking to divide votes of MLAs in every possible Assembly seat.
Handing a ticket to Anant Narayan Jena, who too had courted controversy as Mayor of Bhubaneswar, even after seeking to placate him by offering the BDA chairman post is another example. Not satisfied, he has reportedly arm-twisted the BJD high command and the latter capitulated.
In politics, winning counts and the means does not. The BJD realised it midway and stopped its experiment with new and clean faces. As against its calculation of going in for wholesome changes, it ended up moving only a little over 40 candidates, a third of its existing strength in the State Assembly.