Even as the Opposition in Odisha is making all nimble moves on the political chessboard to 'check' CM Naveen Patnaik over the Mamita murder case, history since 2016 is evident of how the Chief Minister had been timing his gambits.
It seems the current crop of BJD strategists play politics by the chess rules. There is a saying in the chess game that "Nobody ever won a chess game by resigning". Since 2014, this has been the thumb rule for BJD.
The political scenario today has an uncanny resemblance with the 2016 state of affairs.
The monsoon that year in Odisha politics was hit by a tempest called Dr Motilal Gouda. And in the centre of the tempest was the then law minister Arun Sahoo. Dr Gouda was arrested from Andhra Pradesh for his alleged omission and commission. Since he turned a fugitive, the then ADG Crime Branch BK Sharma had constituted a 4-member task force headed by senior police officer Arun Bothra to probe the wheeling and dealings.
Even, Gouda had once remarked that he became victim to the rivalry between ministers. And the political gossip then was - the ministers were Arun Sahoo, Atanu Sabyasachi and Pushpendra Singhdeo.
October 17: The SUM hospital inferno hit the State. 22 killed and 120 injured. Four days later, the then Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi resigned, though the checking of fire safety in hospitals lies with Odisha Fire Department which was under the Home department.
In his resignation letter, Atanu's words were "I resign on moral grounds for the unfortunate incident."
While CM played the endgame here, he lingered a stalemate in the case of other ministers, who were in the line of Opposition fire. Here is the list of ministers whose resignations had been demanded by the opposition in 2016.
- The then Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy: Charge - Suicides by 135 farmers (as per data tabled in Odisha Assembly)
- The Women and Child Development Minister Usha Devi: Charge was death of 19 tribal children in Nagada due to malnutrition.
- The then Law Minister Arun Sahoo: The Charge was alleged links with arrested Dr Motilala Gouda.
- The Then Food and Civil Supplies Minister Sanjay Dasburma: The charge was a large scale mess in implementing National Food Security Act, where many BJD office bearers' names tumbled out in the NFSA beneficiary list.
But CM Naveen Patnaik, after securing Atanu Sabyasachi's resignation, preferred to sit tight in regard to the other ministers.
The year saw Panchayat elections in the months of spring. BJD was hit by the saffron revolution. The ruling party lost many districts to BJP.
Post the saffron uprising, the heat wave was felt in the BJD camp when CM Naveen Patnaik in the gruelling month of May showed 10 ministers the door from the cabinet. Significantly, among the 10 dropped names, Arun Sahoo, Sanjay Dasburma, Pranab Prakash Das, Pradeep Panigrahi and Pushpendra Singhdeo figured prominently.
The Big Takeaway: Naveen waited for the poll outcome to take action against the powerful BJD prodigals, though they were later kicked up and assigned prominent party posts.
This year too saw three ministers embroiled in controversies with the Opposition jockeying for nothing less than their scalps. The ministers are:
- Law Minister Pratap Jena: The Charge was an FIR on him in Mahanga double murder case as per the direction of a judicial court.
- Agriculture and Higher Edu Minister Arun Sahoo: The charge was alleged links with a muscleman in Nayagarh, where police didn't take any action against the complaint filed by Pari's parent. Police activism showed in the case only after self-immolation bid by parents before Odisha Assembly.
- Home Minister Dibya Shankar Mishra: The charge was alleged links with prime accused Gobinda Sahu in the murder of teacher Mamita Meher. Parents and opposition allege that police didn't take any action for 8-days on the missing complaint.
The uncanny resemblance with 2016 is, the Panchayat and urban local body polls will be held next year (2022).
As per political observers, CM Naveen Patnaik is not likely to take any action against the Ministers embroiled in controversies. He will wait for the electoral outcome and will play the endgame after that to show his mettle before the electorate.
"In circa 2001-2012, CM used to crack the whip on controversial ministers. But after 2014, and especially after the fallout with his earlier mentor late Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, Naveen has grown cautious and plays safely. He plays endgame only after poll rebuff," said a political observer.
Significantly, exactly this is what had been obliquely outlined by party spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb in a press conference recently. He said, "CM Naveen will take action when he gets convinced about any wrongdoings by any Minister."
As per political observers, CM Naveen Patnaik's new political dogma has taken 180-degree turn - from public propriety to people's verdict.
In the recent BJD press conference, Pratap Deb had dropped a hint. He said, "When the time will come, CM Patnaik will give the Agni Pariksha."