Sandeep Sahu

Last week, Odisha witnessed the rather unedifying spectacle of two senior leaders of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) turning traffic cops for a while to ensure the smooth passage of the cavalcade of a man who joined the party less than two months ago, holds no party post and loves to introduce himself as an ‘ordinary party worker’. What made the sight, particularly cringe-worthy is the fact that one of the two is a senior cabinet minister in the government – and the descendant of a royal family, to boot - and the other the supposed No. 2 in the ruling party – and the son of a man who was reputed to have taken on the leader after whom the party is named. Another picture that went viral on social media the same day showed the same cabinet minister engrossed in a conversation with a police officer right beneath the stage as the ‘ordinary worker’ took the stage – and the giant screen behind – all alone.

In all these years of watching political developments in the state, this columnist cannot recollect one previous instance when a cabinet minister and a former minister were seen clearing the road, waving hands a la traffic cops, even for the Chief Minister. For that matter, he hasn’t seen anyone hog the entire stage all by himself with all other ‘leaders’ banished downstairs. And that includes the late Biju Patnaik, the man every BJD leader swears by, and Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister for a record-breaking five consecutive terms. Together, the two tell-all pictures (and the videos too) are symptomatic of all that is wrong with the ruling party.

In fact, the posters and banners of the ruling party that have come up all over the state as part of the preparation for the upcoming polls make for an immensely fascinating study of the changing political equations in the state. In at least some of them, the picture of Mr. VK Pandian is bigger than that of Naveen Patnaik, the ‘supreme’ leader of the party. One could have dismissed it as a shameless effort by a craven party functionary eager to ingratiate himself with the ‘ordinary’ party worker. But the conduct of cabinet minister Pratap Keshari Deb and BJD organization secretary Pranab Prakash Das proved, if any proof was still needed, that Mr. Pandian is now bigger than Naveen Patnaik himself!

The grapevine has it that Naveen’s rift with the late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the man who played Man Friday to the BJD supremo before Pandian stepped in to replace him, began with a hoarding put up in Kalahandi where the picture of the ‘uncle’ was a little bigger than that of his humble ‘nephew’! But there are no signs of the supremo taking offence at this all-too-visible attempt at self-promotion by his trusted lieutenant at his expense – at least not yet. This can mean only one thing. The Boss is now resigned, for whatever reason, to his former secretary running both the party and the state by proxy while he cools his heels inside the fortified confines of Naveen Nivas.

It is simply not possible that the leaders of the ruling party, including ministers, are unaware of the public reaction to their craven show of sycophancy for a man who holds no party post and is yet engaged in a no-holds-barred exercise to promote himself and usurp all power. Seasoned politicians that they are, they have their ears to the ground and know they are being ridiculed, laughed at, and caricatured on a daily basis; not just on social media, but also in street conversations across the state. If they are still putting up with the humiliation, it is because they know that is the way the Boss wants it. Notwithstanding Mr. Pandian’s announcement that he will not contest the next elections, they know it will be the ‘5T Chairperson’ – and not the party president – who will decide who gets a party ticket and – if the party wins a record-breaking sixth successive term – who becomes a minister.

It is possible that all the pent-up anger, anguish and humiliation suffered by party leaders will boil over at some point – before or after the elections - and rock the boat. But that is a story for another day. For now, it is Pandian all the way!!

(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.)