Naveen Patnaik: Limits of unilateralism
by Sandhya Jain on 24 Mar 2009 4 Comments

As BJP president Rajnath Singh welcomed former Union Minister Dilip Ray and former Nationalist Congress Party leader Bijoy Mahapatra into the party yesterday, close on the heels of the entry of BJD Lok Sabha MP Archana Nayak (21 March 2009), Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik suddenly lost his aura of invincibility.

Regardless of how BJP performs in the coming Parliamentary and Assembly elections, it will now be able to inflict damage upon its former ally, who unilaterally pronounced divorce upon an unsuspecting loyalist without giving due cause or notice, for purely selfish reasons.

Mr. Patnaik now faces the limits of unilateralism. The dubious manner in which his regime passed the vote of confidence with a voice vote on 11 March 2009 shocked the nation. But the hour of reckoning came just nine days later when Governor Murli Bhandare reported to the President that the Patnaik Government had failed to prove its majority on the floor of the House (20 March 2009).

Congress’ reluctance to impose President’s rule in the State – in contrast to the alacrity with which it rushed to do so in Meghalaya – suggests that it is unsure of its electoral chances in Orissa and possibly hopes to seal a tacit deal with Mr. Patnaik, either before or after the elections. With polls set for April 16 and 23, Mr. Patnaik is effectively a caretaker Chief Minister; BJP’s demand for President’s rule is intended only to embarrass the BJD and the Congress.

Whatever the merits of the survey on which Mr. Naveen Patnaik decided to sever ties with the BJP, it did not find resonance with many in his party, and was clearly not based upon internal inputs from the BJD grassroots. Thus, Lok Sabha MP Archana Nayak walked out in protest against the undue hold of Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra over the CM, whom she lambasted as a “spineless leader.”

Mr. Bijoy Mahapatra, a founding member of the Biju Janata Dal, was expelled from the party in 2000 when he fell out with Mr. Naveen Patnaik. A vigilance case was registered against him for criminal conspiracy and undue favour to a private contractor in the Upper Indravati project. In 2002, dissatisfaction with Mr. Naveen Patnaik led party rebels to challenge his leadership by getting BJD leader Dilip Ray elected to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent on 27 March. Mr. Ray had been expelled just 10 days before the elections, but won amid large-scale cross-voting by BJD and BJP members.

Meanwhile, the law and order situation in Orissa remains precarious with the regime utterly failing to arrest the murderers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, even as a local RSS leader was also gunned down on 19 March 2009, in the same Kandhamal district. 

Mr. Prabhat Panigrahi, an RSS leader arrested after riots following the murder of Swami Laxmanananda on Janmasthami last year (23 August 2008), was gunned down after his release on 14 March, by 15 armed ultras at Rudiguma village. Once again, police blamed suspected Maoists, but it is time to question closely what the communal affiliation of this armed group is, given the fact that its targets are always Hindu saints or social activists serving the Hindu community.

The BJP has rightly decided to make the killing of a Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati an issue in the coming elections. Ms. Sushma Swaraj has pointed to the inadequate security extended to the Sant by the Naveen Patnaik administration, even though the threat to his life was well known. The Patnaik regime also went beyond the call of duty in rounding up suspects for the alleged rape of a nun, though the killers of the VHP leader have not been found so far.

For Mr. Naveen Patnaik, the denouement is just beginning. After breezing out of his 11-year old alliance with the BJP, he now faces tough negotiations with his new political friends who want a major chunk of the 147 Assembly seats and 10 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in Orissa. But the combined vote-share of the CPI, CPM, JMM and NCP, who together have only eight MLAs and one Lok Sabha MP, do not justify these ambitions, and given the contempt with which Mr. Patnaik treated the BJP’s claim to continue the old seat-sharing arrangement, it will be interesting to see how he handles this fractious lot.

As of now, BJD is reportedly willing to part with only 22 Assembly seats (keeping 125 to itself) and 3 Lok Sabha seats (retaining 18 for itself). With press reports suggesting that the JMM wants to contest 30 seats, NCP 62 seats, and CPM 22 seats, the stage seems set for “friendly fights” in yet another State.

What makes Orissa important from the nationalist point of view is the fact that India tests all her missiles from Chandipur-on-sea. Like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh, the sensitive Orissa coastline is the target of foreign missionaries (intelligence agencies?). The security implications are obvious, particularly after Mumbai 2008.

The author is Editor,

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