Mrunal Manmay Dash

While all eyes in Odisha were on Puri during the inauguration of the Puri-Howrah Vande Bharat Express train service on Thursday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who attended the inauguration ceremony, said something that raised many eyebrows.

During his speech, Patnaik not only heaped praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also invited him to inaugurate the Puri International Airport expected to be ready in 3-4 years of time, hinting he expects Modi to retain power in 2024 as well.

Attending the ceremony in virtual mode, Patnaik said, “Within 3-4 years, this airport will be ready and the honourable Prime Minister will come to Srikshetra to dedicate the Sri Jagannath Puri International Airport to the public.”

“Recently I had a meeting with the honourable Prime Minister and had a detailed discussion on the proposed Sri Jagannath Puri International Airport at Puri. We will incorporate all the suggestions given by the Prime Minister for making it a world-class sea-side airport,” Patnaik further said.

As the rumour mills were set rolling by Patnaik’s invitation, speculations reached the zenith after he continued to heap praises on PM Modi on the bullet train front too.

“We are one step closer towards the aspiration of bullet trains in India. I am sure with your leadership we should soon have our own bullet trains,” said Patnaik praising PM Modi.

Even PM Modi addressed Patnaik as ‘Friend’ showing a camaraderie between the leaders.

While the Congress has been accusing the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of getting closer to each other, particularly after the 2019 elections, CM Naveen Patnaik has stuck to his party’s stance of remaining equidistant from both BJP and Congress.

It is pertinent to mention here that Naveen Patnaik has never uttered a word against PM Modi. In fact, Patnaik had already hinted at not joining the third front.

Political experts and analysts see the obvious too. Senior journalist, Rabi Das said, “Patnaik has not only hinted at PM Modi’s extended tenure, but Patnaik has also indirectly asserted that he too will be in power in Odisha during the inauguration of Puri airport after 3-4 years.”

“Vande Bharat Express seems to have created a bridge between the BJD and BJP,” said senior journalist, Prasanna Mohanty.