Sandeep Sahu

If anyone was surprised by the BJP naming Ashwini Vaishnaw as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha this morning - and the BJD announcing its support for his candidature barely within an hour - has obviously not been keeping track of political developments in Odisha. Or, s/he is too naïve to understand the intricacies of the unique brand of coexistence – and co-prosperity – the two supposed ‘rivals’ have forged over the years. That Vaishnaw is going to be the BJD-supported BJP candidate had become clear on Monday when the former named Debashish Samantaray and Shubhashish Khuntia as its candidates for two of the three Rajya Sabha seats from the state but stopped short of naming the third, despite having more than the required numbers.

But there are at least three major differences in the circumstances under which Vaishnaw was put up as the joint BJP BJD candidate in 2019 and now. First, Vaishnaw had never been in parliament when he was named as the BJP candidate in 2019 despite the party lacking the numbers in the state assembly. This time, he has a track record of nearly five years as Union Railway, Telecom & IT minister – and as an RS member from Odisha - to boast about. Second, it was announced by BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik himself on live TV in 2019. (That he made a major faux pas by first announcing Vaishnaw as the "BJD" candidate, however, is a different story.) This time, the party merely issued a press release, signed by Patnaik himself, for a change - to announce the decision. Third, the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections were already over when Vaishnaw was nominated in 2019. This time, the elections are barely weeks away.

It goes without saying that the third one is the most crucial difference – and the reason that could have caused the delay in the announcement. With the elections already over, there was little possibility of Vaishnaw’s nomination in 2019 affecting the electoral prospects of either party in the near future since the next elections were nearly five years away. That the two parties have gone ahead with this deal on the eve of the election in 2014 suggests that it is part of a larger deal for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections that would see the BJP walking away with a good number of seats in the parliamentary polls while handing over Odisha on a platter to the BJD! (At least two opinion polls by national news channels have already predicted that the BJP would win more LS seats than the BJD this time.)  

That the ‘principal opposition party’ has given up on power in Odisha – notwithstanding the tall talk of the leaders of its state unit – had become abundantly clear on February 3 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his public address in Sambalpur, refused to utter a word against Naveen Patnaik, his government or his party. Earlier in the day, the two leaders had shared a dais where Modi addressed Patnaik as his ‘mitra’ (friend). Coming as it did barely two months before the polls, it was a clear indication that the two parties would engage in a charade of a ‘friendly fight’ where the outcome is ‘fixed’! It will be merely an extension of the excellent arrangement that has stood both parties in good stead for five long years.

Also Read | Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw Named BJP's Rajya Sabha Candidate from Odisha, BJD Extends Support

Some people may ask; “If the BJP and the BJD are such good friends and are protecting each other’s interests so well, why don’t they revive their alliance?” The simple answer to that is the BJD has nothing to gain – and everything to lose - by forging a formal alliance with its estranged partner. Having enjoyed unfettered power for three consecutive terms, why on earth would it want to be shackled by an alliance partner and concede Assembly seats that it can win comfortably. The current ‘informal’ arrangement suits it just fine. Naveen Patnaik has repeatedly said – and proved – that he has no ‘national’ ambitions. So, he is happy to concede a few Lok Sabha seats – like he did last time too – to ensure he continues to lord over Odisha. It’s the BJP that is dying to revive the alliance - notwithstanding BJP state unit president Manmohan Samal’s brave talk today. The BJP may well increase its tally in the Lok Sabha polls, but its dream of coming to power in Odisha will have to wait for another day.  

It’s the ‘I told you so’ moment for the Congress. And there is little doubt that the party would push this ‘BJP-BJD Bhai Bhai’ theme right through the campaign. But given the bitter infighting and the decrepit state of the party organisation, it is unlikely that it would fetch enough electoral dividends for the party to matter in the post-election scenario. And yet, this columnist would stick his neck out and predict that the party would increase its strength in the Assembly, even if marginally!!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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.)