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Sandeep Sahu

A decade after the first, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is all set to embark on his second foreign visit during his 22-year long stint at the helm of affairs in Odisha. But there is a world of difference between the circumstances then and now.

Everyone would recall that the BJD supremo had to abruptly cut short his first visit - to England – in May, 2012 and rush back home as a coup d’état was attempted in the party by his erstwhile mentor and Man Friday Pyari Mohan Mohapatra. The ‘revolt that wasn’t’, however, had begun to fizzle out and the ‘rebels’ had started trooping back, their tails firmly between legs, to Naveen Niwas, the de facto party headquarters, even before Naveen had reached Bhubaneswar. Pyari Babu fell by the wayside as Naveen asserted his authority – in the party and the government. The rest, as they say, is history.

As Naveen readies for his second visit to foreign land – first Dubai and then Italy with a visit to the Vatican thrown in – the possibility of a ‘revolt’ looks as remote as the sun rising in the west! Having learnt his lesson the hard way, the supremo has worked assiduously to make sure that there is not even a hint of a challenge to him – neither in the party nor outside. In any case, the fate of Pyari Babu post the failed May 29 revolt is a massive deterrent for any potential challenger.

It is, however, not just the fate of Pyari Babu that has scotched any possibility of a challenge to his authority. Every single leader in the party who has fallen out with Naveen – including stalwarts like Ramakrushna Patnaik, Prafulla Ghadai, Bijay Mohapatra and Nalini Kanta Mohanty – has bitten the dust and gone into political oblivion. The latest to suffer the same fate was Dr Damodar Rout, a Biju era stalwart who took on the supremo on the eve of the last elections, joined the BJP and went on to lose the election. Nothing is heard these days about the man who used to be in the news almost on a daily basis. Srikant Jena did win a Lok Sabha election and became a Union minister. But ever since the UPA went out of power, he has been in the political wilderness. Dillip Ray did manage to win a Rajya Sabha election after his fall-out with the supremo. But he too is nowhere to be seen in the political horizon these days.

Nothing, however, illustrates the complete authority over the party, the government and the people that Naveen has come to acquire now than his stubborn refusal to sack Pratap Jena, Arun Sahoo and Dibya Shankar Mishra even in the face of a statewide agitation demanding their ouster for their alleged involvement in criminal acts or shielding of the accused in criminal cases. He waited till he got a thumping, unprecedented victory, first in the back-to-back panchayat and urban elections and then in the Brajarajnagar by-election, before wielding the axe against them. It was his way of showing that his connect with the people was good enough to win him election after election despite the presence of tainted ministers in his cabinet. Having proved his point, he proceeded to sack the three at a time of his choosing – but took care to make it appear to be part of the larger exercise of a mid-term overhaul of his council of ministers.

Frankly, all this talk of the reshuffle having been undertaken in view of the 2024 elections is bullshit. For all we know, Naveen could have continued with same council of ministers till 2024 without any difference to his political fortunes, if the state of the Opposition is anything to go by. The BJP, which had started having delusions about replacing the BJD as the ruling party after its modestly improved performance in the 2019 elections, has been brought down to earth with successive defeats in every election since then, the latest being the humiliation in Brajarajnagar where it lost the deposit. From a high of 297 zilla parishad seats in 2017, it crashed to a mere 42 in 2022. Its performance in the civic polls, where it won just 312 of the1884 corporator/councilor posts at stake, was nothing to write home about either.

As for the Congress, the party is free to daydream in the wake of its performance in the Brajarajnagar bypoll that it is now firmly on the road to recovery after a change in the PCC leadership. But it would need nothing short of a miracle to offer a semblance of fight to the ruling party – or even the BJP – if the moribund state of the party organization is anything to go by.

So, Naveen can sit pretty without a care in the world for now. And if he manages to get some big-ticket investment during his impending visit to UAE and Italy, as he is likely to do, he would add a few more points to his already high popularity ratings.

A revolt/challenge would be farthest from his mind as he embarks on his sojourn to these two countries.

(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.) 

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