Badrika Nath Mahapatra

Here today, there tomorrow and somewhere else the day after tomorrow. Now, replace the names of the three main political parties of Odisha, namely BJD, BJP and Congress, with the words ‘here’, ‘there’ and ‘somewhere else’ interchangeably.

The foregoing two sentences aptly summarize the political somersaults of many of Odisha’s politicians in the run-up to the General Elections and assembly elections of 2024.

Switching parties at the times of elections is not a new phenomenon in Indian Politics. Take the case of the great Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram who was a close confidant of Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the emergency days. But on the eve of the General Elections of 1977, he left Congress to join the newly formed Janata Party Alliance which trounced the former to form the first non-Congress Government at the centre. Interestingly, he was in the reckoning for the Prime Minister’s post in the new government but had to settle for the post of Deputy Prime Minister as many felt that his close association with Mrs. Gandhi would negatively affect the credibility of the nascent government. 

In India, most turn-coats get rewarded by their new parties because the post-defection terms are worked out before the politician jumps ship. There are examples galore at the national level. Cabinet ministers at the centre, Narayan Rane and Jyotiraditya Scindia have come from the Congress Party.So is the present Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma. Maharashtra PCC President Nana Patole was a BJP MP before. Telengana Congress CM Revanth Reddy, who had cut his political teeth in student politics in the RSS/BJP-affiliated ABVP later joined the Telugu Desham Party before migrating to the Congress Party. 

While there have been defections of leaders at the national level between the BJP and the Congress, who are principal rivals at the national level, the level of political defections being witnessed in Odisha over the last two months is truly astounding. The principal players in this game of party hopping are obviously the two principal rivals, the ruling BJD and the main opposition party BJP.

Some of the party-hopping escapades are eye-popping, to say the least. Take the case of Berhampur Lok Sabha seat. Here the BJD candidate Bhrugu Baxipatra had contested the last Lok Sabha elections in 2019 from BJP, though unsuccessfully. His challenger from BJP this time is Pradeep Panigrahi, who was till recently with BJD. Another interesting case in point is the Nimapara assembly constituency. Nimapara is a nondescript small town, famous only for its cottage cheese-based sweetmeat of Chhena Jhili. But the candidature of Dilip Nayak from BJD has left a not-so-sweet taste in the mouth of Samir Ranjan Dash, the three-time MLA from the same constituency who was also a minister in the Naveen Patnaik ministry for some time. Mr. Nayak’s political journey is quite spectacular. He had contested the 2019 assembly elections from the Congress Party. Then, he joined the BJP in the hope of getting the ticket to contest the 2024 assembly elections. When he sensed that he might not make it to the candidates’ list of BJP, he switched to BJD. After spending only about a fortnight in his new party, he was selected as BJD’s candidate at the cost of Mr. Dash who has been full of fire and brimstone since the announcement of Mr. Nayak’s candidature. 

Another interesting case is that of Kailash Chandra Kulesika, the present BJP candidate from the Lakshmipur (ST) seat. He had contested the 2019 assembly elections from the Congress Party and had lost by only a few hundred votes. He was promised the BJD ticket from the same constituency due to which he joined the ruling party of Odisha. However, when he was ignored in favour of another person by BJD’s top brass, he joined the BJP and bagged its ticket for his constituency. 

What has triggered this mad dash of Odisha’s politicians from one party to another? Coming to BJD, having ruled Odisha for a quarter of a century and grown its roots quite deep, it has got a problem of plenty. Each constituency has multiple strong candidates vying for that much sought-after ticket. Those who fail to get the tickets have three options, (i) fall in line with the party’s decision and support the chosen candidate (ii) play spoilsport and sabotage the rival’s chances and (iii) seek greener pastures (read the MLA ticket) in another party, preferably BJP which is the principal challenger to the ruling party and has the financial and organizational muscle to propel the turn-coat to achieve victory. In today’s age, most politicians don’t see any virtue in patiently waiting for the next opportunity. This has led to dozens of recent defectors from BJD contesting the assembly elections from the saffron party. 

From the BJP’s point of view, accepting the defectors from BJD and rewarding them with party tickets is a good strategy to score on optics of creating the impression of BJD being on the back foot and augmenting their party’s support base by the defectors’ own following. In the bargain, a few of their members also have joined BJD to be rewarded with tickets (Lok Sabha as well as assembly) immediately. 

What makes Odia Netas jump ship without caring for the supposed ideology of the party that they leave? The primary ideological distinction between BJP and its political adversaries is the way secularism is interpreted. Leaders of parties cultivating Muslim/Christian vote banks are usually vociferous in their attacks on BJP and vice-versa in states having substantial populations of these two religious denominations. The numerical inferiority of people professing these two religions in Odisha (Hindus constitute about 94% of Odisha’s population) makes the political migration and adaptation processes between BJP and BJD/Congress smooth affairs. 

The bottom line is that behind all these lies the indomitable quest for power. As Ms. Mukta Singh-Zocchi says in her book ‘Game of Big Numbers’- “The minds of men intoxicated with power are fickle.’’ We are seeing that happening now in Odisha.

(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.)