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Naveen Patnaik Unlikely to Join 'Third Front', May Continue His 'Ekla Chalo' Policy

Though Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee have talked to the BJD boss over phone since then, there is no indication that he is particularly enthusiastic about the move to form a federal front either.

Sandeep Sahu |

Updated:March 29, 2018, 8:49 AM IST
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Naveen Patnaik Unlikely to Join 'Third Front', May Continue His 'Ekla Chalo' Policy
File photo of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (PTI)
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Naveen Patnaik is an enigma, not just for his party men but for leaders of all other parties. Even as the move to forge opposition unity ahead of the next general elections gathers momentum with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee meeting leaders of various parties in New Delhi, the Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo remains firmly non-committal.

Asked about his party’s stand after the high profile dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi earlier this month, Naveen had repeated his done-to-death "equi-distance from both Congress and BJP" line. And though Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee have talked to the BJD boss over phone since then, there is no indication that he is particularly enthusiastic about the move to form a federal front either.

BJD MPs Pinaki Mishra and Anubhav Mohanty did meet Mamata in Parliament House on Tuesday, but they were at pains to emphasise that it was just a 'courtesy call' and should not be seen as anything more than that.

If Naveen's conduct in the past is anything to go by, he is unlikely to abandon his 'ekla chalo' line in a hurry. Ever since unilaterally severing his alliance with the BJP on the eve of the 2009 elections, the BJD supremo has rebuffed all overtures by other parties to forge an alliance at the national level though he did tie up with the NCP locally and gave it a few seats in that election.

For someone who has remained unchallenged in the state for 20 years—and has taken his party from strength to strength with each election—Naveen has consistently displayed a remarkable lack of interest, or an appetite, for a national role. He, however, has always kept channels of communication open with the party ruling at the Centre – with the Congress from 2004 to 2014 and with the BJP thereafter.

When the Left parties initiated a move for a Third Front in the run up to the last general election in 2014, Naveen’s response was disappointingly lukewarm. The BJD chief did send a representative to the first meeting of the proposed 11-party alliance in Delhi, but stayed away completely from all subsequent meetings. He did not relent even after CPM leader Prakash Karat paid a visit to Bhubaneswar to seek his support.

Naveen's non-committal attitude to any move is guided by enlightened self-interest. He knows he is good enough to win elections in Odisha on his own and there is nothing that any of the parties keen about a national level front has on offer for him here.

If anything, the BJD, which looks all set to win power for an unprecedented fifth term in 2019, stands to lose a few seats by getting into an understanding with other parties—something that is bound to leave a few in his own party disgruntled. He also knows that none of these parties have any base in Odisha and they are just trying to piggyback on his popularity. So, going alone makes political sense for him.

Even though he knows he has nothing to gain, the BJD supremo would perhaps have considered joining a front if he had any national ambitions. But in his 20 years as BJD chief and 18 years as Chief Minister, he has made it abundantly clear that he would rather confine himself to Odisha and remain the darling of the 4.5 crore Odias rather than expose himself to the vagaries of national politics by joining one side or the other.

There is also a more selfish consideration behind Naveen’s decision to stay away from national politics: a desire to ensure that there are no other power centres within the party. He has always made sure no one in the party comes anywhere close to being seen as a No. 2.

If he joins an alliance and it comes to power at the Centre in the next election, the BJD would obviously be offered a good number of ministerial portfolios in the new government given the expected strength of his party in Parliament. This would open himself to the risk of an alternative centre of power emerging in the party, as had happened during the NDA-1 when he had got former Union Coal minister Dillip Ray unceremoniously sacked from the Vajpayee government after realising that the Rourkela strongman was getting too big for his boots.

Naveen did the same to Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, his one-time Man Friday, after the latter allegedly plotted a coup and tried to overthrow him in 2012. Chastened by these experiences, the BJD chief does not want to take any chances.

There is thus no incentive for Naveen to join one or the other alliance at the national level. If he does anything of the sort, it would be completely against the ‘run of play’ and highly uncharacteristic of him.
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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