Ahead of polls, smaller parties pop up in odisha
BJP is looking to forge alliance with the regional parties that may come up soon.
Party-hopping is a common phenomenon during elections everywhere in the country. But in Odisha, formation of new parties also becomes equally common every time a major election comes calling. A couple of regional, personality-based outfits are coming up this time around too as the state braces for simultaneous Assembly and parliamentary polls in another three months.
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had, sometime ago, hinted at creating a viable alternative to Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Congress in Odisha by uniting smaller parties ahead of the elections. Pradhan being the chief ministerial face of BJP in the state and the fact that new local parties are going to be floated in the coming days, have given rise to speculation that new political equations are on the cards in the state.
Pradhan’s remarks assume some relevance keeping in view the recent turn of events. After his expulsion from BJD, Damodar Rout had joined hands with Braja Kishore Tripathy, founder of regional outfit “Samata Kranti Dal”, and formed “Biju Samatakranti Dal” in November. However, the alliance fizzled out within a month as the two leaders could not pull along together.
Though his plan to launch a campaign against corruption remains a non-starter with the recent development, Rout has exuded confidence that he would very soon form a new political party “which will become an alternative to the present ruling dispensation.” Tripathy, who had tried to tie up with BJP during the last elections unsuccessfully, however, faces an uncertain future as before.
Spawning of at least twothree more outfits is also on the cards with veteran leader Bijoy Mohapatra inching towards it, while hotelier-politician Dilip Ray is still beating around the bush. Both the leaders had quit BJP together last year. Though rumours were agog that Ray would join BJD soon, there is no sign of it as yet. Nobody is sure about his future political plans, but sources say that he too is planning to float a party of his own instead of joining others.
Mohapatra, however, is not new to run a regional party. After his expulsion from BJD in 2000, he had floated a regional outfit “Odisha Gana Parishad” which had even won two seats in the state Assembly in 2004. He later preferred to join BJP, but was never comfortable in the saffron party owing to ego clashes with other leaders there. Asked when he is going to form his own party, he said recently, “For (drawing) a political roadmap, only a week’s time is enough.”
The possibility of another regional party coming up is also there with another veteran leader Baijayant “Jay” Panda yet to decide his next course of action even as a long time has elapsed since he quit BJD. It was strongly speculated then that he would join BJP or at least float an umbrella party comprising disgruntled leaders of all major parties and have an alliance with the saffron party ahead of elections, but strangely nothing of that sort has happened so far.
Dropping enough hints about what is happening behind the scene, Panda recently said that the BJP is committing the same mistake that Congress once made in Odisha—by not going hard against the ruling BJD. Pinpointing CM Patnaik’s “ploy” to “maintain equidistance from both Congress and BJP”, he said, “One of Naveen Patnaik’s greatest successes has been to convince both BJP and Congress to play them off against each other and not to really take on the BJD because the other national party would grow.”
Pointing out how astutely Naveen played the two national parties against each other to hold on to power in the state, he added, “What has happened is that the BJP has grown into being the second largest party in Odisha and it has edged out the Congress. But there are some indications now that the BJP is making the same mistake in Odisha that the Congress made.”
Political pundits don’t disagree as a senior journalist said, “No doubt BJD has supported BJP many a time at the Centre, directly or indirectly, at the hour of need and helped it wriggle out of tough situations. But in some ways, BJP is compromising its priorities. Its Mission 120+ has also gone off the track. Amidst all this chaos, Naveen Patnaik has been successful in creating a win-win situation for his own party.”
Recently, Telangana Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who is trying to forge a “Federal Front” at the national level, visited Patnaik in Bhubaneswar. Whatever transpired between them, Patnaik later came out with a statement that his party is not going to be a part of the “mahagathbandhan” (Congress-led grand alliance of anti-bjp parties) for the time-being. This is seen as a BJD tactic to keep BJP in good humour so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to go soft on it.
Panda has dubbed it as “Sun Tzu’s Art of War”, the ancient texts which taught that wars are won by convincing the enemy that they don’t stand a chance. “Patnaik has created an illusion that if either of BJP or Congress were to take action against or fight the BJD strongly, the other national party would gain,” he told an interviewer recently. His remarks have indicated that all is not going well between him and the BJP. However, time has come for Panda now to take a decisive step before he vanishes into political oblivion.
A peek into the fate of small parties in the state in the past 40 years, however, reveals a sad saga of failures. It shows that none of them has ever been successful and their impact has always been petty negligible at the hustings. Though the ruling BJD is also a regional, personality-based party, it cannot be counted among these parties because it was not a small party even when it was formed in December 1997 soon after the demise of legendary leader Bijayanand alias “Biju” Patnaik.
BJD had started off with a bang as a huge conglomeration of major leaders who had come under one umbrella to fight years of Congress misrule in the state. Its leader Naveen Patnaik, who is the son of Biju Patnaik, became a Union minister in the then Vajpayee government within three months of its inception. Naveen later became the Chief Minister of the state in 2000 and is still holding the fort to become one of the longest serving CMS of the country.
Speaking of the smaller parties, the biggest misfire in the recent history is “Aama Odisha” floated by industrialist-media baronpolitician Soumya Ranjan Patnaik ahead of 2014 elections. Political pundits had drawn a rosy picture for the party keeping Soumya’s multi-faceted personality in mind. But it could make little impact in the polls and Soumya himself lost from Khandapada Assembly segment. Its poor performance forced him to dissolve the party and later join the BJD.
Another such party, which was formed with much gusto and enthusiasm but failed to make a mark, is “Utkal Bharat”. Bureaucratturned-bjp MP Kharbela Swain had floated the party in 2010 after severing his ties with the saffron outfit. Utkal Bharat had even joined hands with Aama Odisha in the last election and it was thought that Swain and Soumya together would be able to pull off a good performance, but all in vein. While Saumya is a BJD Rajya Sabha member now, Swain is still in political wilderness.
It is to be seen in the coming days as to which leader is joining or floating what party and how Pradhan is going about his permutations and combinations to manage the smaller parties and forge a winning formula for the party in the state. With the chances of Modi contesting from Puri getting stronger, polls in Odisha are certainly going to be a cliff-hanger this time. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has coined an interesting term for the infighting within the Congress. Speaking to Vir Sanghvi in one of his first interviews after taking office, he admitted that the Congress had lost around 20 seats due to wrong ticket distribution. Only he called this “human error”. Not too difficult to guess which specific human he holds responsible for this error! The role of the Supreme Court is coming into prominence once again with some of its recent high profile hearings. But the SC has drawn its own boundaries. Recently, the court refused to give an urgent hearing to a case that sought to define the word “Hindutva”. As the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi stated, the court has its own priorities and will hear the matter “when we have time”. The Narendra Modi government has given high priority to the Ardh Kumbh Mela taking place this year. This has led the Opposition to remark that the BJP is doing this to reassure its Hindutva vote bank, especially since it couldn’t deliver on the Ram Mandir. When asked about this, UP Cabinet minister and government spokesman, Siddharth Nath Singh simply stated on Newsx: “Kumbh means Hindutva and Hindutva means development.” Make what you will out of this, but the Congress has coined an interesting rebuttal claiming that for the BJP “development” may be the user word, but the password is Hindutva. With the rise of regional forces, there is some speculation as to whether all the state based parties can get together to form the next government. According to BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal, non BJP and non Congress parties have never managed to get 272 seats in the past. He said this on Newsx’s Roundtable show. Hearing this, BJD’S Kalikesh Singh Deo shot back, stating, “Don’t be too sure about it in these elections.” And so the games for E 2019 have begun. It was Fali Nariman who stated that “freedom after speech is really what freedom is all about”. Our politicians should bear this in mind. At a book release function, a Cabinet minister was recently asked by a member of the audience to comment on the atmosphere of intolerance and intimidation. The minister heard the long-winded question and then said sharply, “The fact that you can look me in the eye and ask this question itself means that there is a lot of tolerance in this government. So sit down.” There you go!
Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda