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OPINION | Jay Panda's BJP Entry and Tathagata Satpathy’s Political Sanyas Set Rumour Mills Abuzz in Odisha

Whatever their motivation, there is little doubt that the decision taken by the two suave MPs portends interesting times ahead.

Sandeep Sahu |

Updated:March 7, 2019, 10:12 AM IST
OPINION | Jay Panda's BJP Entry and Tathagata Satpathy’s Political Sanyas Set Rumour Mills Abuzz in Odisha
MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda is greeted by Odisha BJP leaders a day after joining the saffron party, in Bhubaneswar on March 6. (PTI)

Two major political developments within 24 hours of each other — the first long on the cards and the second completely unexpected — have set the political stage nicely ahead of the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Odisha.

After nine months of intense speculation, high-profile former MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda finally took the plunge into the saffron pond at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Monday evening. Less than 24 hours later, another high-profile BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy stunned everyone by announcing sanyas from politics.

Though speculation about Jay Panda’s entry into the BJP had been rife long before he parted ways with the BJD in May last year, his formal induction on Monday did raise a few eyebrows. The reason — after years of praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two-time MP from the Kendrapara constituency had started singing a different tune in recent times.

In a series of tweets, he had accused the BJP of lacking the stomach to fight Naveen Patnaik, his bête noire, after Modi failed to take on the BJD supremo or his government in three back-to-back visits to the state in a span of three weeks in December and January. This was read by political observers as a sign that he was disillusioned by the BJP which he felt had kept the door ajar for a possible post-poll understanding with the BJD boss should the need arise.

Soon thereafter, there was a spate of reports, quoting ‘sources’, in the local media that suggested he was in talks with the Congress to elicit the party’s support for his candidature in his former constituency. Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Niranjan Patnaik himself fuelled such talk, saying the industrialist-turned-politician was welcome to join the Congress. But in the end, nothing came out of the talks, apparently because of Panda’s insistence on contesting as an Independent. That’s why his ‘return’ to the saffron fold took many by surprise. To be fair to Panda though, he never deviated from his “all three options are open” line since quitting the BJD till he joined the BJP on Monday.

So what brought about the sudden volte-face?

There are three possible answers to this question. The first: with the elections just weeks away, time was running out fast for Panda unless he opted out of this election altogether. By now, the third option, that of floating his own party, had been automatically ruled out leaving him with only two choices: to join either the BJP or the Congress. He knew he had little chance of winning as an Independent on his own – not even in Kendrapara, his erstwhile constituency which he had nursed very well in his two terms as MP.

The second: since the Congress had made it clear that it would back his candidature only if he joined the party full time and agreed to fight on the Congress ticket. This would have been a risky proposition in a constituency known as an anti-Congress bastion since 1957. That further narrowed down his option to just one: joining the BJP.

The third: he may have felt that tide had turned in favour of Modi and the BJP again amid the outpouring of nationalism in the wake of the air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed facility at Balakot.

While it is easy to see why Panda did what he did, Tathagata Satpathy’s sudden announcement has left everyone bewildered. More than 24 hours after the announcement, political pundits are still scratching their heads trying to figure out the possible motivation for his decision. No one is willing to believe his explanation that he wants to concentrate on journalism (he is the editor of leading Odia daily Dharitiri) and took the decision on the insistence of his son.

All kinds of theories are being floated: that he feared he would be denied a ticket and was trying to make a virtue out of a necessity; that he feared losing the election since he is at loggerheads with party MLAs in his constituency; that he wanted his wife Adyasha to be fielded as the BJD candidate in Dhenkanal in his place and so on.

To be fair to Satpathy, he is a rare politician-editor with some spine. Dharitri has frequently carried reports — and even signed editorials by Satpathy — that have put the Naveen Patnaik government in the dock at a time when others have bent over backwards to be on the right side of the party supremo and his government. The fact that he is a ruling party MP has never deterred him. Hence, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity when he says he is quitting politics to pursue fearless and ‘independent’ journalism — something that he says the state sorely lacks. But such is the image of Indian politicians that very few are willing to buy his explanation at face value. Some are even saying that he is just biding his time before following his ‘good friend’ Panda into the BJP!

Whatever their motivation, there is little doubt that the decision taken by the two suave, articulate MPs portends interesting times ahead. One can look forward to many such developments in the run up to the elections due in the next few weeks.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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