Post reaping a rich harvest in the recently concluded Panchayat elections, the reward season seems to have heralded in the ruling BJD. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is known in the State political circles as a master-shock therapist, played out his chessboard on Saturday.
The big surprise CM Naveen Patnaik made in the announcement of the party's face in the upcoming mayoral polls has been the naming of Rajya Sabha MP Subash Singh for the Mayor race. Singh is a current member of the Upper House and his tenure will last till April 2026, which means he has nearly 4 years left.
Why A Surprise?
The element of surprise here is CM Patnaik's this decision will open up the Rajya Sabha contest in the State. In July 2022, the State will be witnessing elections for three RS seats. The tenure of the current RS members Prasanna Acharya (veteran leader from western Odisha), Sasmit Patra (minority face of BJD) and N Bhaskar Rao (south Odisha (Rayagada BJD leader) will be expiring in July 2022.
At present, the strength of Odisha in the Upper House is 10. While BJD has 9 members, BJP has 1 (Rail Min Ashwini Vaishnaw). The distribution of MPs region-wise shows that of the nine, four BJD RS MPs are from the coastal districts (Prashanta Nanda, Amar Patnaik, Subash Singh and Sasmit Patra) two from south Odisha NB Rao and Mujibulla Khan), two from the western region (Prasanna Acharya and Sujeet Kumar) and one from north Odisha (Mamata Mohanta).
With a strength of 114 MLAs in the Odisha Assembly, BJD had more than the requisite bench strength to pocket the three seats comfortably.
However, introducing an RS member to the civic poll battleground, and as the election results will be out on March 26, the State will, in all cases, witness elections for four seats of Rajya Sabha in June.
Twist In Tale
The twist in the tale is as the BJD has a strong vote base in Cuttack city and is so in an advantageous position. In the case of Subash Singh becoming the city mayor and if any independent candidate backed by the Opposition enters the RS poll fray, then a contest is inevitable and BJD has to employ all tricks of the trade to pocket all 4 seats.
The strength of the current State Assembly shows the House has 147 MLAs. As per the RS election norms, these 147 MLAs will elect the four RS MPs from Odisha in the coming June.
In the scenario of a contest, and to see all its candidates through the RS poll, each of the BJD RS candidates will have to secure a minimum of 30 first preference votes. The simple arithmetic then tells that BJD needs the support of 120 MLAs to make a clean sweep in the polls to the Upper House.
But the bench strength of the BJD at the moment is 114. The main opposition party BJP has 22 MLAs, Congress has nine, CPI(M) and Independent has one each. So, in order to retain the four seats, the party's chessboard politics will come into play.
Because, even if the lone Independent MLA (Rayagada) Makaranda Muduli, who has a very cosy political relationship with BJD, votes for the BJD, the party would still then needs three more.
In such a scenario, the ruling BJD will play the political trick of abstention in the Opposition bench.
The allegation of money bags will then fly thick and fast, as it is happening after the record win in the Panchayat elections by the ruling party.
What seems significant here is, CM Naveen Patnaik could have avoided such a scenario this year as elections to only 3 seats were due this year. The CM has hoisted a poll for the fourth seat by making Subash Singh (whose tenure was till Apr 2026) the party's Mayoral face in Cuttack.
The CM seems to be motivated by the saying of the English poet Lord Byron "It is odd but a contest of any kind gives a rebound to my spirits and sets me up for a time."
However, all said and done, it remains to be seen will the Opposition show the spine and not give a walkover to ruling BJD, especially after the humiliating loss to BJD recently.
Horses For The Courses?
The Mayoral face announcement today by the BJD shows that the party is a super election machine. Besides the rural and urban polls, the party has a plan ready for the elections to the Upper House in June.
The moot point then is who the master-shocker CM will drop or crown? Will senior leader Prasanna Acharya be retired? Will AU Singhdeo get the ticket?
A look at Naveen Patnaik's past moves shows that only a few RS MPs had been repeated. The veteran BJD MP has anchored BJD in 128 debates during the period of 2016-22, though he has been eased out from the post of BJD Parliamentary leader. Puri Lok Sabha MP Pinaki Mishra is holding the position currently.
As per party insiders, the party's most likely nominees for the upcoming RS polls will include a bureaucrat, senior leaders and social workers. The gossip is the likely nominees will be Arup Patnaik (former Mumbai Police Commissioner), recently defected maverick Congress leader Pradeep Majhi, AU Singh Deo and a social worker.