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Odisha BJP Leaders Draw Daggers, Plan Checkmate Strategy to Tackle Ex IAS Officer’s Entry into Party

Equations are being redrawn, hatchets buried and daggers drawn to take on Aparajita Sarangi, who has already made a statement with the kind of induction she was given by the BJP top bosses.

Sandeep Sahu | News18.com

Updated:November 30, 2018, 1:18 PM IST
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Odisha BJP Leaders Draw Daggers, Plan Checkmate Strategy to Tackle Ex IAS Officer’s Entry into Party
New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah receives a bouquet from former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Nov 27, 2018. Sarangi formally joined BJP today, at the residence of party’s national president Amit Shah. (Image: PTI)
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Bhubaneswar: When former Odisha cadre IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi landed in Bhubaneswar on Thursday, two days after formally joining the BJP in New Delhi, the signs of the churning that the party is currently undergoing were there for everyone to see. In attendance were Union Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the party’s Odisha ‘pravari’ Arun Singh and Odisha unit chief Basanta Panda. But almost all other state leaders were conspicuous by their absence.

The tell-tale evidence of the ongoing churn was visible even on the day Sarangi was formally inducted into the BJP at the 11, Akbar Road residence of party President Amit Shah. Two parallel developments in Delhi and Bhubaneswar — both without precedence — on Tuesday hinted at the shape of things to come.

In the national capital, Sarangi was being accorded a privilege not granted to anyone in the state in the recent past: a formal induction in New Delhi and that too at the residence of the party chief. Sources in the BJP say the induction was originally scheduled to take place at the party’s Delhi headquarters, but had to be shifted for some reason to Shah’s residence at the last minute.

The move is in sharp contrast to any recent induction into the state unit, all of which have taken place in Bhubaneswar, leaving no one in doubt that Sarangi is not just another ordinary member being taken in.

The grapevine has it that she was given this rare privilege because the decision to induct her was apparently taken at the ‘highest quarters’, a euphemism for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sarangi herself had indicated as much when she thanked the PM profusely for having accepted her resignation on November 15.

Even as Sarangi was being welcomed to the party in Delhi, Union Tribal Affairs minister Jual Oram was addressing a press conference at the party office in Bhubaneswar, during the course of which he made a statement that startled everyone. “Dharmendra Pradhan will be the chief ministerial face of the BJP in the coming elections,” said the man who is himself seen by many as a chief ministerial aspirant.

No one in the party, including Amit Shah, had ventured so far as to actually name someone as the CM face of the party yet. Significantly, in reply to the same question at the same venue a few months ago, Oram had said there are ‘five to seven’ chief ministerial candidates in the party. How that ‘five to seven’ narrowed down to just one – and that too someone other than him – in the span of a few months is a question that remains unanswered.

Curiously, Pradhan was present at the induction ceremony in New Delhi where Sarangi was taken in. But observers did not miss the hint of unease in the demeanour of the Union minister. He left almost immediately after the brief ceremony while Aparajita obliged the assembled Odia TV crews.

The entry of the former bureaucrat has clearly set the cat among the pigeons in the state unit of BJP. Equations are being redrawn, hatchets buried and daggers drawn to take on the new kid on the block, who has already made a statement with the kind of induction she was given by the top bosses of the party.

By all indications, she is set to be fielded as the BJP candidate from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency where she had earned her reputation as a no-nonsense, if somewhat high-handed, municipal commissioner. Though she was inducted only on Tuesday, she had already set up base in the city and started grooming the constituency since her resignation from central services was formally accepted on November 15.

Her entry on Twitter preceded her entry into the party by just a few days. The tweet announcing the acceptance of her resignation by the PMO was, in fact, only her third! Though she herself follows no more than 12 people, a majority of them BJP leaders, her followers have swelled from zero to nearly 8, 000 in just one month.

What has apparently sent alarm bells ringing in the state BJP is the organised campaign, mostly on social media so far, being run by invisible forces to build her up as a potential chief ministerial candidate. Those familiar with the internal goings-on in the state unit of BJP see Jual’s open endorsement of Pradhan’s candidature as part of the revised strategy to meet the new challenge.
Jual, the lone Lok Sabha MP from the state (Pradhan is a Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh), has his own compulsions because of what is happening in his own backyard.

On Thursday, former Union Coal minister Dillip Ray, who is the MLA from the steel city of Rourkela, part of the Sundargarh parliamentary constituency, announced that he would resign both from the BJP and the Assembly on Friday in protest against Prime Minister Modi’s failure to honour the two commitments he had made to the people of the steel city in 2015 – the construction of a second bridge on River Brahmani and the upgradation of the Ispat General Hospital (IGH) into a super specialty hospital.

Ray’s departure would considerably weaken Jual’s bid to seek re-election from Sundargarh, which includes Rourkela where Ray has a sizeable following. Hence, it makes sense for him to join hands with Pradhan and enlist his support in winning the election.

It is, however, obvious that Jual couldn’t have made such an announcement, which the party had scrupulously avoided making so far, without a wink from the party’s central leadership. Observers see this as a balancing act on the part of the latter. While it wants to back Sarangi to inject some much needed freshness and vigour in the moribund party organisation in run up to the election, it is also keen to keep Pradhan in good humour.

Jual Oram announcing him as the CM face, thus, is being seen as the central leadership’s way of assuring him that there is no threat to his leadership of the state unit. Pradhan has certainly emerged stronger in the bargain.
(Get detailed and live results of each and every seat of the state Assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram to know which candidate/party is leading or trailing and to know who has won and who has lost and by what margin. Our one-of-its-kind Election Analytics Centre lets you put on the psephologist's hat. Know interesting facts and trivia about the elections. Elections = News18)
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