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In Odisha, Rivalry Between Friends-turned-foes Naveen Patnaik, Bijoy Mohapatra May See a Familiar End

If Mohapatra gets elected from Patkura Assembly seat, he will certainly be a vociferous voice of the Opposition in the Assembly and bring constant worries to the BJD government, said a political analyst.

Anand ST Das | News18.com

Updated:July 10, 2019, 8:19 AM IST
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In Odisha, Rivalry Between Friends-turned-foes Naveen Patnaik, Bijoy Mohapatra May See a Familiar End
File photos of Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra.

Bhubaneswar: For close to two decades, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his one-time close confidant Bijoy Mohapatra, currently a leader of the Opposition BJP, have been arch rivals in the state’s politics. Now, an upcoming Assembly by-poll is set to bring a closure to this phenomenon with a result that may be along the familiar patterns of the saga.

Mohapatra, 68, has a reputation for being a vociferous leader who revels in bringing out the acts of omission and commission of the government of the day ever since he became an MLA in 1980.

Known as one of the blue-eyed boys of the legendary Biju Patnaik, Mohapatra has served as an MLA for four terms and a minister in the state for one term. However, things changed ever since he fell out with Naveen Patnaik, 72, son of the late Biju Patnaik, in 2000.

After Biju passed away in April 1997 while serving as a Janata Dal MP from Kendrapara, it was Mohapatra who played a pivotal role in forming the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and installing Naveen Patnaik, a political novice then, as its head. He became one of Naveen’s top political aides and helped strengthen his base in Odisha politics in the initial years.

As the chairman of the BJD’s political affairs committee, Mohapatra ran the party with full confidence. It was during the Assembly polls in 2000 that Patnaik saw him as a future political rival and offloaded him from the party to acquire total control over its affairs and pave a smooth path for himself. It was a masterstroke by Patnaik during his formative years in Odisha politics, and many say it eventually helped him stay in power for five successive terms.

The way Mohapatra, then a sitting MLA from Patkura Assembly constituency, was denied a BJD ticket at the behest of Patnaik and his then advisor Pyarimohan Mohapatra remains a classic tale of the ruthlessness in political ambition and rivalry.

When Bijoy Mohapatra was busy allotting party tickets to other leaders, he learnt that his own ticket has been snatched away from him and given to a new face. With little time to file nomination as an independent candidate and thus, out of the race, Mohapatra openly supported the candidate of Trinamool Congress and ensured his victory over the BJD’s official candidate.

“That defeat stayed lodged in Patnaik’s mind and heart like an unmoving thorn. The BJD came to power under Patnaik, but the Patkura shame for the party gave rise to a visceral rivalry between Patnaik and Mohapatra,” says a senior BJD leader close to Patnaik.

“Since that day 19 years ago, the CM has made sure that Mohapatra fails to enter the Assembly as an MLA,” he added.

Despite his stellar role as a four-term legislator and his popularity in the media, Mohapatra cuts a sad figure in the coastal state’s politics since 2000. All the elections he has contested since then and the many efforts he has made to take on Naveen Patnaik and his BJD have brought him only defeat and disappointment.

The Assembly by-poll in Patkura, in Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency, is scheduled for July 20. Mohapatra, who rejoined BJP a month before the April-May simultaneous polls in Odisha, is the BJP candidate from there. While the poll there was originally scheduled for April 29, the death of the BJD candidate nine days before this date led to its countermanding.

Patnaik’s critics aver that he had schemed to get the poll in Patkura countermanded. He had it in mind, they say, when he nominated the two-term MLA, Bed Prakash Agrawalla, 82, who was gravely ill and hospitalised for weeks at the time.

Agrawalla could not even climb the stairs of the collectorate to file his nomination papers. Patnaik also brushed away his wife and son’s request to nominate someone from the family. Agrawalla died at a top hospital in Bhubaneswar on April 20 and the poll in Patkura was countermanded.

Then, after the Election Commission set May 19 as the date for a by-poll, Patnaik got it deferred by citing Cyclone Fani, which was yet to come. The CM’s critics say that he did so in order to ensure that the Patkura bypoll is held only after BJD is back in power in the state. BJD leaders, however, reject these allegations.

Mohapatra was so hurt at the “serial ploys to delay the poll” that he dared Patnaik to contest against him in Patkura. He is now pitted against Agrawalla’s ageing widow Sabitri Agrawalla of the BJD and Jayant Kumar Mohanty of the Congress.

“If Mohapatra gets elected, he will certainly be a robust voice of the Opposition in the Assembly and bring constant worries to the BJD government,” said political analyst Rabi Das.

With many BJD legislators being close to him, the party also fears that he may try to engineer a split in the party to ensure formation of a BJP government, said a leader of the regional party.

But the July 20 by-poll may bring yet another bout of disappointment for Mohapatra because the BJP, despite being the main Opposition party in the Assembly, has developed a friendship with the BJD and does not appear keen on ensuring his victory.

At Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request, Patnaik lent the BJD’s support to a BJP candidate, Ashwini Vaishnav, for the Rajya Sabha and got him elected just weeks after the two parties had clashed in the bitterly contested polls for the Lok Sabha and Assembly.

All eyes in Odisha are on the July 20 bypoll in Patkura. The result of this by-poll may give a new twist or new meaning to the Naveen-Bijoy rivalry.

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