Sandeep Sahu

The inevitable has happened. VK Pandian, BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's Man Friday, has 'formally' joined the party which he was running 'informally' at least since 2019, if not earlier. 

But what is significant is not so much his induction into the BJD as the timing of it. The man who was appointed to the specially created, extra constitutional post of Chairperson of the much hyped 5T and Nabin Odisha initiatives, the two flagship programmes of the Naveen government it hopes will deliver the sixth consecutive term for itself, on Vijaya Dashami day, joined the party on the holy Kartik Purnima day. It was the day when Odia Sadhabas (traders) used to set sail for various south Asian countries with their merchandise in the ancient times. That the Chief Minister chose to stay home to welcome Pandian to the party rather than be at Paradeep with President Droupadi Murmu at the Boita Bandana festivities on this auspicious day for Odias is the clearest possible pointer of the attempt to time every phase in Pandian's political ascendancy with important events in the Odia religious calendar. Had it not been so, Pandian could have joined the party any other day, with December 26, the party's foundation day, being the most appropriate occasion for the induction. It is entirely possible that it was Pandian himself - and not Naveen Patnaik - who chose the date for his formal entry into the party. 

The symbolism is important because it is part of a pattern seen over the last four or five years. Whether it's the renovation of important Hindu shrines like the Jagannath temple or the Samaleswari temple or the generous grants to revive Bhagabat tungis in villages under the Nabin Odisha scheme, there is a clear attempt to tug at the religious strings in the average Odia's heart. Coming as it does from a man who once swore that 'every bone' in his body is secular, this marks an unmistakable tilt to the right. All pretensions of fighting the 'communal' BJP have now been dispensed with at the altar of electoral expediency. As things today, there is precious little to choose between the BJD and its trusted, long time political ally BJP (notwithstanding the shadow boxing in public), except for the shrill anti-Muslim rhetoric of the latter. 

True to pattern, Pandian invoked 'Mahaprabhu' (Lord Jagannath) and sought his blessings immediately after joining the BJD. Party spokesperson Lenin Mohanty had earlier described him as the 'blessing' of the Lord in an effort to endear him to the average Odia, whose love and veneration for the Lord is well known. In fact, the BJD's right turn - and increasing proximity to the BJP - can be attributed almost entirely to Pandian. Nothing proves it better than the one-on-one meeting he had with Home Minister Amit Shah during the latter's last visit to the state and the alacrity with which his application for voluntary retirement was accepted by the Modi government in three days flat. It is important to remember that both the events came at a time when the state BJP leadership was going hammer and tongs at Pandian for 'indulging in politics' and even petitioned the central government seeking action against him! Anyone who still believes the BJD and BJP will fight each other in the 2024 elections, I dare say, doesn't know anything about politics!

While making the announcement about Pandian's entry into BJD, Puri MP Pinaki Mishra gave the game away when he said that the former's 'vast experience in administration and politics' will be a huge 'asset' for the party and will help it 'immensely'. It was the most candid admission by the party that Pandian was indeed doing 'politics' long before he joined the party and while he was still in government service!! 

Now that the induction is over, the only point of interest is what formal designation is given to the new star on the horizon. Also of interest is whether he would contest the coming elections and become a minister in the next government. (With the BJP having given a virtual walkover to the BJD and the Congress in no position to put up a fight, it is, in all likelihood, going to be a cakewalk for the ruling party). But unlike many other political pundits, this columnist doesn't believe that Pandian will take over as CM or be named as Naveen's successor.

The exigencies of power - and fighting and winning an election - may have shut the mouths of the BJD leaders for now. All of them may have started singing paeans to him, knowing his importance in the Boss' scheme of things. But make no mistake, they would never accept him as their leader in a post-Naveen scenario. And that would hold good even if Naveen himself designates him as his successor. The knives, stealthily hidden for now, will come out sharpened the moment the supremo is not around.

There is little doubt that Pandian will call all the shots in the ruling party - and the government if the party, as widely expected, get another term in office. But he can, at best, be the 'power behind the throne' and not the 'King' himself. Any attempt by him - or his boss - to anoint him as the King would be a disaster for the party !!

(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.)