Himansu Shekhar Rout

Politics in Ganjam is now in a tumultuous state amid wide speculations that Gopalpur MLA Pradeep Panigrahi, after being ousted from the BJD, is getting closer to the BJP and may join the saffron party anytime now. 

Speculation about his closeness with the BJP started the day he was seen sitting next to Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan during the oath-taking ceremony of Governor Raghubar Das. 

Interestingly, the BJD is reportedly jittery over the possible crossover of the Gopalpur legislator to the saffron party. Many believe that Panigrahi is said to be enjoying good clout in his constituency by keeping intact his follower base.

BJD’s worry about Panigrahi is reflected in the fact that some ruling party leaders, at press meets, have raised questions in advance on how the BJP will embrace a leader, who is accused of anti-people activities, and financial irregularities. 

BJD’s Ganjam unit president, Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik, and MLA Bikram Panda, at a presser, targeted Panigrahi and the BJP, saying that the MLA, who has cases of financial fraud in his name, is out on bail. They questioned on what ideological basis the BJP will adopt such a tainted leader.

Patnaik said, "The BJP was earlier opposing Panigrahi and it has now given up its own principles. As the BJP lacks leaders, it wants to take such a tainted leader like Panigrahi." 

Panda said, "BJP leaders used to blame Panigrahi. Now we are surprised their party is ready to accept the tainted leader.”  

Responding to BJD’s comments, BJP’s Ganjam unit president, Subash Sahu observed, “The cases against Panigrahi are sub-judice. If he comes to our party, we will welcome him. The BJD lashing tongues against Panigrahi and raising questions on his probable joining only indicates their inner fears.” 

Since the day Panigrahi was ousted from the party, the BJD has been opposing his participation in government programmes, even though Panigrahi remains to be an MLA. Even Panigrahi’s attempt to participate in a government programme attended by the then 5T secretary and the current 5T chairperson, VK Pandian in Ganjam was strongly obstructed by some BJD leaders.

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It is being discussed in political circles that his handshake with the BJP is likely to turn the political equations topsy-turvy in Ganjam. No one can deny the fact that Panigrahi used to exercise significant influence on BJD politics in the district for over 10 years.  

As the representative of the Chief Minister, he was looking after the political affairs in Hinjili, the home constituency of Naveen Patnaik. Hence, he was and is still acquainted with almost all party workers.

What is significant is that Panigrahi was looking after the party's fund management, apart from playing a role in ticket distribution in the 2009, 2014, and 2019 elections, though later, he fell from the grace of the Chief Minister.   

Political analyst and senior journalist, Prasanna Mohanty observed, "Pradeep Panigrahi has organizational skills and experience. He could be an instrument to checkmate the BJD in Ganjam. If someone is most vocal against the Chief Minister, then it is Pradeep Panigrahi. If the BJP takes such a leader into its fold, it will indicate the possibility of a confrontation between the BJD and the saffron party in the election battlefield.”

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