Lost in the Shuffle?
Ten incumbent ministers have been replaced with new faces. The largest cabinet reshuffle undertaken by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the 17 years it has held power in Odisha is, many believe, acknowledgement of the BJP’s threatening expansion in the state. Whether it will have the desired effect of improving the government’s image and performance is up for debate. Many believe the exercise could backfire for chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Already, the BJD’s Sundargarh district general secretary, Lalatendu Parida, has threatened to engineer mass resignations, alleging that Patnaik has failed to give due representation to the western and southern districts of the state. He’s especially miffed about the exclusion of four-time MLA and tribal leader Mangala Kisan. There are already whispers that some of the ‘dropped’ ministers have been contacted by the BJP.
Even party analysts concede there’s a visible regional imbalance in CM Patnaik’s bid to tackle the imminent saffron onslaught in Odisha. Of the eight backward districts, just two have found representation in the new cabinet. Thirteen districts have gone unrepresented in the shuffle. For instance, western Odisha— where districts like Kalahandi, Bolangir and Mayurbhanj emerged as BJP strongholds in the February panchayat polls (it won 108 of the 126 seats)—was completely ignored. Also, two tribal ministers have been removed but not replaced with a new tribal face.
NOT ONE OF THE 10 DROPPED MINISTERS WAS PRESENT WHEN THEIR REPLACEMENTS WERE SWORN IN
CM Patnaik’s strategy of giving his government a makeover in response to the BJP’s call for a ‘Naya Odisha’ may be expedient from an organisational point of view, but critics say the reshuffle has failed in its primary objective—to project the BJD government in a new light. The BJP’s Odisha spokesman, Sajjan Sharma, says Patnaik’s action smacks of desperation. After two decades in power, the public has grown weary of the BJD, he says.
There are already murmurs of a brewing rebellion. Suspended former BJD MP Jairam Pangi joined the BJP on May 9 in Bhubaneswar. Four party MLAs have openly expressed reservations on party affairs. And not one of the 10 ministers who were replaced attended the swearing-in of their replacements in Bhubaneswar on May 7. Leader of the Opposition Narsimha Mishra (Congress) also didn’t attend, and later spoke of a “tremendous rift within the BJD”.
Patnaik loyalists, however, insist the cabinet reshuffle will benefit the BJD in the countdown to the assembly polls (in 2019). The CM’s men are banking on the larger-than-life image and reputation Patnaik still enjoys in Odisha. “The BJP will have to dig up an issue that is bigger than Naveen Patnaik’s image,” they say.
FRESH HAND New minister Sashi Behera meets CM Patnaik at the swearing-in