Op-Ed: May 29 coup bid strengthened Naveen’s hold on party

Did he or didn’t he? Even six years after the event, there are no clear answers to whether or not what happened on May 29, 2012 was a coup attempt or not. The truth is known only to Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who is no more, and the 30 odd BJD MLAs who had assembled at the former’s Sahid Nagar residence on that fateful day. Till he was alive, Mohapatra kept denying the charge while the BJD MLAs, for reasons that are all too obvious, have never admitted there was anything like a coup bid.

But this columnist, for one, believes there indeed was a bid to dethrone Naveen Patnaik. In the absence of a formal admission from the dramatis personae involved, one has to go by what is called ‘circumstantial evidence’ in criminal cases (though there was nothing criminal about the events of that day). And the tell-tale signs were all there for everyone to see. Why on earth did nearly three dozen MLAs (their exact number remains debatable) suddenly assemble at the residence of the man, who had earned the epithet ‘Chanakya’ – and that too when the Chief Minister and party supremo was away in foreign land? Why were rooms booked for each of them in a swanky hotel room in the capital city? Why were their signatures collected on a piece of paper if everything was above board? If the MLAs had just gone to air their grievances, as Mr. Mohapatra kept claiming throughout, why did they choose a time when the party chief was away? Didn’t they realise that such a move would inevitably be construed as a coup attempt? There are just far too many questions that haven’t been answered convincingly by the proponents of the ‘no coup’ argument.

Apart from the circumstantial grounds cited above, the events in the weeks leading up to May 29, 2012 also corroborate the theory that there indeed was a plot to dethrone Naveen. Apparently, the seeds of the revolt germinated during the panchyat polls. It was the stupendous success of the ruling party, which won an incredible 652 out of 856 Zilla Parishad seats in that election, that is supposed to have sent Pyari Babu’s ambitions soaring. From candidate selection to running the campaign, it was a Pyari show all the way with the party chief playing only a peripheral role. Party insiders say Naveen saw red after receiving reports that the size of Pyari Babu’s cut outs were bigger than those of him at some places in Kalahandi. But the fact that he still went ahead with his maiden foreign tour suggests that he never imagined that the man who mentored him for over a decade and made the party a vibrant political machine would allow his ambition to get the better of him and plot a coup against him while he was away.

Pyari Babu obviously banked on the support of the 70 odd MLAs he had hand picked during the 2009 Assembly elections and expected that they would side with him in his bid to upstage Naveen. There were credible reports at the time that suggested that channels of communication had indeed been opened with Congress leaders seeking the support of party MLAs for formation of a government after splitting the BJD, though it is not certain if Congress did promise such support.

Ironically, the conspiracy that was hatched to dethrone Naveen ended up strengthening his position even as it sounded the political death knell of the man who wanted to be king. Chastened by the experience, the BJD supremo stamped his authority firmly on the party organisation that he had happily left in the care of Pyari Babu. The experience convinced him that even after the exit of the likes of Bijay Mohapatra, Nalinikanta Mohanty and Dillip Ray, there was always a possibility of someone or the other emerging as a threat to him. Having learnt his lesson, Naveen has played his cards well, never allowing anyone to get too big for his boots. He has never dropped his guard since then and has kept looking over his shoulders constantly to see if anyone up to some mischief. Even while allowing the late Kalpataru Das to run the party on his behalf till his death in 2015 and leaning on his trusted private secretary VK Pandian for advice since then, he has made sure that neither of them acquired the kind of clout in the party and the government that Pyari Babu did in his heyday.

As a result of his assertion of authority, all the would be rebels who had assembled at Pyari Babu’s residence that day have now turned the staunchest loyalists. Even Cuttack-Chowdwar MLA Pravat Biswal, the most vocal among the Pyari supporters, has earned the trust of his party chief after a brief suspension. The possibility of something like the events of May 29, 2012 happening again is next to non-existent now.

It has been a classic case of ‘once bitten, twice’ shy since those momentous event exactly six years back.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)