Sandeep Sahu

Tuesday was a day of great setbacks for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha.

First, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an interview with news agency ANI aired in the morning, made it clear that he won’t mind ‘sacrificing’ his friendship with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the larger interest of Odisha. He also reiterated the claim he has made repeatedly during his hectic campaigning in the state: that a BJP Chief Minister would take oath on June 10. Together, the two statements effectively put at rest all speculation that it would be back to business as usual between the frenemies once the election is over. Having staked everything – and stuck his neck out to fix an ‘expiry date’ (June 4) for the Naveen Patnaik government – the PM is clearly in no mood to back off now.

Read More | 'Fate of Odisha is going to change'; PM Modi reveals why he sacrificed relations with CM Naveen

In the afternoon came the embarrassing revelation, courtesy the CCTV footage of the incident in a booth in the Begunia Assembly constituency on election day (May 25) released by BJP candidate for Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat Aparajita Sarangi, that Prashant Jagdev, the BJP candidate from Khurda, had nothing to do with the breaking of an EVM for which he had been arrested and sent to jail by the police. The leaked video made it clear why the Khurda SP had said the footage would be examined ‘after the election process is over’. It would have revealed that Jagdev was being falsely implicated in a case. The double standards of Odisha Police were revealed when Angul police lodged a case against Susant Behera, BJD MLA from Chhendipada, but only after being instructed by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), but was yet to arrest him despite a tell-tale video that clearly showed him assaulting a BJP worker at a polling booth on May 25. In Jagdev’s case, an FIR filed by the presiding officer was good enough to arrest him without looking at the CCTV footage. The administration obviously thought it could get away with this brazen misuse of power given Jagdev’s dubious record as a ‘bahubali’ leader, who had rammed his car into a crowd in Banpur, injuring over 20 people, in March, 2022.

Read More | Prashant Jagdev innocent, CCTV footage with us, claims BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi blaming CM Naveen and his 'coterie'

By evening, another video that went viral on social media brought more embarrassment for the ruling party. It showed the left hand of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik shaking violently while addressing an election meeting and his alleged successor VK Pandian dragging his hand and placing it on the podium. It was the latest proof – if any proof was needed at all – that the aging BJD supremo was not in the pink of health. In a damage control exercise, the CM issued a video statement – as is his wont these days - saying the Opposition was making an issue out of a non-issue. But there were not many buyers for his reasoning this time.

But the biggest setback for the ruling dispensation came late in the evening when news came about the Election Commission suspending DS Kutte, the special secretary at the CMO, for interference in the election process. In what constitutes a scathing indictment of the man widely seen as the de facto DGP of the state, he was asked to report at the office of the Resident Commissioner, Odisha in New Delhi by 3 pm today. The letter by the EC addressed to the CEO, Odisha left no room for doubt that his suspension had to do with the false case against Jagdev. To add insult to injury, the EC also directed Ashish Kumar Singh, the IG in charge of the CM’s security who had already been removed from election duty, to present himself before a specially constituted team of doctors from AIIMS, Bhubansewar for a detailed medical examination of his health status. Singh, who had been barred from all election related work on April 3 based on a complaint lodged by the state BJP, had gone on medical leave since the day after.

The suspension of Kutte, widely seen as the all-powerful officer pulling the strings of the state police from the safety of the CMO, has certainly set the cat among the pigeons. Apart from bringing to light how a handful of mostly no- Odia officers ensconced in the CMO has usurped all power to itself and rendered the chief secretary and the DGP irrelevant, the action also put others in the CMO on notice. They would be desperately praying for the BJD to retain power, fearing vindictive action by the BJP government in the unlikely event of the saffron party coming to power.

Read More | EVM toppling row takes new twist as CCTV footage surfaces; Odisha CEO orders probe to check veracity

What the episode also revealed was the spunk shown by CEO Nikunja Nihari Dhal who, unlike many of his fellow IAS officers, has refused to play ball with the powers that be.

As the state braces for the last phase of elections on June 1, the back-to-back setbacks could not have come at a worse time for the BJD. What must be causing particular trepidation to the party is the fact that PM Modi, who was been unusually harsh in his criticism of the Naveen Patnaik government right through this election season, is scheduled to address three election rallies in Baripada, Balasore and Kendrapara on Wednesday. Given his penchant for hitting where it hurts the most, Modi is unlikely to miss out on this heaven-sent opportunity to up the ante against the BJD. And the ruling party must be dreading the prospect of his last round of electioneering tilting the scales against it in the six Lok Sabha and 42 Assembly seats going to polls on Friday.

(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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