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OPINION | Not BJP or Congress, Naveen Patnaik’s Real Challenge This Time is the Revolt Within

Naveen Patnaik’s crisis managers, among them a few trusted officers, are working overtime to douse the flames of rebellion that is rapidly assuming the proportions of a wildfire, but only with limited success.

Sandeep Sahu |

Updated:May 9, 2019, 1:58 PM IST
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OPINION | Not BJP or Congress, Naveen Patnaik’s Real Challenge This Time is the Revolt Within
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is seeking re-election for the fifth consecutive term, is contesting from two Assembly seats for the first time.

What began as a trickle before announcement of the list of candidates is fast threatening to become a deluge after it. The simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Odisha this time have all the makings of an election of deserters and rebels.

Though all three major contenders for power — BJD, BJP and Congress — are having to grapple with the problem of peeved leaders leaving the party or raising the banner of revolt, the BJD, as the ruling party still going strong, has to contend with this phenomenon much more than others.

Sitting BJD MP Balabhadra Majhi from Nabarangpur and two sitting MLAs — Nilagiri legislator Sukanta Nayak and Gunupur MLA Trinath Gomango —left the party even before party supremo Naveen Patnaik announced the first list of candidates on Monday after getting definite indications of being denied the party ticket. Two more sitting MPs — Arka Keshari Deo from Kalahandi and Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh from Kandhamal — and two MLAs — Purna Chandra Nayak and Debaraj Mohanty — have followed suit after the announcement of the candidates’ list. A few more former MLAs and losing candidates in the last election in 2014 have also quit the BJD after losing out on the ticket sweepstakes.

Naveen’s crisis managers, among them a few trusted officers, are working overtime to douse the flames of rebellion that is rapidly assuming the proportions of a wildfire, but only with limited success. So far, they have had success only with senior leader and five-time MLA from Berhampur Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik and that too only after Naveen publicly promised his supporters that he would send Patnaik to the Rajya Sabha.

Two Rajya Sabha seats are likely to fall vacant if sitting members Prasanna Acharya, who has been nominated as the BJD candidate from the Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency, and KIIT University founder Dr Achyuta Samanta, who has been fielded from Kandhamal in place of Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh, win as expected.

Dangling the Rajya Sabha carrot is a strategy Naveen has used to great effect to keep disgruntled party members in good humour in the past. But this time, there are far too many of them to be defanged with the promise of a Rajya Sabha nomination.

If the nominations for the first two phases of election on April 11 and 18 are anything to go by, up to 50% of the party candidates in 2014, a majority of them sitting MLAs or MPs, could see their seats to go to others. To put things in perspective, Naveen has replaced the candidates for the parliamentary elections in eight of the nine seats and 27 of the 54 candidates for the Assembly polls, 14 of them sitting MLAs, who figured in the first list of candidates released on Monday.

The resentment is particularly strong in seats that have gone to recruits from other parties, mostly Congress. While two-time sitting Berhampur MP Sidhant Mohapatra, who lost out to Congress import and former Union minister Chandrasekhar Sahu, appears to have gone quiet after making some discordant noise, others are not too keen to put up with the slight.

Kusum Tete, the BJD candidate from Sundargarh Assembly seat in 2014 and a strong contender for the party ticket this time too, quit after Jogesh Singh, the sitting Congress MLA who defeated her last time, jumped fence only a few weeks ago and was named as the BJD candidate in her place. Kishore Mohanty, the BJD candidate in Jharsuguda last time, is seething with anger after sitting Congress MLA Naba Das, who defeated him in 2014 and joined the BJD days before Singh, was fielded as the party candidate in his place. Efforts to persuade him to contest from neighbouring Brajarajnagar have not succeeded even as it has left Anup Sai, who crossed floors from Congress days before the election in 2014 and was promptly named the BJD candidate, angry.

Managing these internal equations is proving to be a tough task for Naveen Patnaik’s crisis managers. There are two primary reasons for this. First,, there are just too many disgruntled party leaders this time round. Second, Naveen, who has never really had an appetite for such things and has always believed in outsourcing the job to a trusted lieutenant, has no one with the required political savvy and understanding to manage the fall out. In the 2009 election, it was the late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who earned the sobriquet ‘Chanakya’s for his grip of party affairs. In 2014, he had Kalpataru Das. In the absence of such efficient and effective managers, the BJD supremo is banking on a motley group of a few young leaders and some trusted officials.

Interestingly, almost all of those leaving the ruling party appear to be ending up in the BJP. Balabhadra Majhi, whose seat went to Ramesh Majhi, MLA from Jharigan and a minister, has already joined the BJP while the other two MPs who have quit the BJD also appear to be heading there.

Wednesday alone saw three sitting BJD MLAs and former MLA from Parlakhemundi K Narayan Rao joining the BJP in the presence of Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan. Many more are expected to head to the BJP in the days ahead. In fact, a major reason for the BJP not coming out with its list of candidates yet is believed to be the fact that it is waiting for BJD and Congress rejects to hand out tickets to them. It is no secret that there is a serious dearth of leaders with a good enough political profile in the saffron party. Whether this strategy would work, however, is debatable.

The Congress, in sharp contrast, appears to be not having too many takers. Just about the only known leader it has managed to rope in so far is former BJD MLA Nabin Nanda from Dhenkanal. And he was not even the BJD candidate last time.

While both the BJP and the Congress are in much better shape in this election than they were in 2014, the real challenge for Naveen Patnaik this time will be how to manage the revolt by those were denied tickets.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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