Sandeep Sahu

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

Residents of Odisha’s capital city have long got used to effigies of some political leader or the other being burnt by a group of people on the streets on the city. But on Monday, eyebrows were raised when the effigy of Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, who resigned as Health minister of the state last month was burnt and slogans shouted against him at Rajbhavan Square in the heart of the city. The reason: those burning the effigy and shouting slogans against the former minister were not from any Opposition party but belonged to the ruling BJD.

The provocation for this public protest was an incident at Mahakalpada earlier in the day in which supporters of Nayak tried to prevent Kendrapara MP Baijayant Panda from reaching the venue where party supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was scheduled to address a public meeting and shouted slogans against him before being whisked by the police.

Panda had apparently been warned against coming to the event by supporters of the Mahakalpada MLA, but chose to ignore the threat. Without naming anyone, the Kendrapara MP himself tweeted about it. “Associates of a colleague who recntly “resigned on moral grounds” threatening me agnst participation today in a Mahakalpada event w/CM”, he tweeted, leaving no one in doubt about who this ‘colleague’ was.

The incident on Monday was further evidence of what has been obvious for some time now: the rifts in the district units of the ruling party are fast assuming unmanageable proportions. On August 28, Telkoi BJD MLA Vedabyas Nayak was dragged out of the podium and severely thrashed by a group of 20-25 people said to be supporters of Keonjhar strongman and Rural Development minister Badri Narayan Patra. The assault on the MLA was serious enough for him to be rushed to the SCB Medical College in Cuttack.

Though it has not always ended up in fisticuffs, the rivalry between local leaders of the BJD is fast becoming a statewide phenomenon. The bitter and seemingly endless spat between Excise minister Damodar Rout and Rajya Sabha member and Jagatsinghpur district BJD president Bishnu Das on the one hand and Rout and Barabati Cuttack MLA Debashish Samantray on the other is too well-known to bear repetition. In the Puri district unit, the return of Satyabadi MLA Umakanta Samantray to the BJD fold has pitted himself against Ramaranjan Baliarsingh, the party candidate in the last Assembly election, and, by extension, much of the district unit headed by Puri MLA Maheswar Mohanty.  Surya Narayan Patra vs. Bikram Keshari Arukh in Ganjam, Akash Dasnayak vs Pritiranjan Ghadai in Jajpur, Jogendra Behera vs Aananga Uday Singhdeo in Bolangir – one could go on and on.

With the panchyat elections just four months away, this is certainly not a happy augury for a party that has swept away everything on its way for years. The party has already started paying the price for internal dissensions, losing control of two municipalities – Keonjhar and Dhenkanal – due to irreconcilable differences among its local leaders. In the case of the former, even the threat of expulsion and the physical presence of the BJD supremo in the town failed to prevent nine of the 14 BJDd councilors from voting in favour of the no-trust motion against the BJD chairperson Meena Majhi.

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Which brings us to the point how in a party where one man’s word is law so many people have suddenly mustered the courage to defy the party leader. It is now all too obvious that the BJD’s own version of ‘high command’ doesn’t evoke the kind of fear that it used to not so long ago. The man who had painstakingly built a reputation as someone who doesn’t ‘spare anyone’ is clearly losing his power to act.

This loss has manifested itself in other ways too. Three years ago, someone like Begunia MLA Prashant Jagdev would have found himself in the doghouse for his repeated public brawls. But today, he goes around nonchalantly, as if he is convinced the party leadership would not act against him. It is remarkable that Naveen Patnaik, who has always believed in keeping his ministers on tenterhooks, has not effected even a minor reshuffle in his council of ministers even a good two and a half years after he was sworn in as Chief Minister for the fourth time. It is not as if changes have not been warranted. From the discretionary quota row to the  bungling in the organisation of the Nabakalebara last year to l’affaire Motilal Gouda, there have been numerous occasions when his ministers have faced charges serious enough to merit action. But strangely, Naveen, known for dropping ministers at the drop of a hat in his first three terms, has been unable to act against any of them.

By all accounts, sixteen years of uninterrupted power is beginning have its impact on the ground. Drunk on power, local leaders are now busy fighting their own petty personal battles for supremacy rather than presenting a united face. Perhaps apprehensive about further exacerbating the problem of dissension within the party ranks, the supremo, who evoked consternation not so long ago, is unable to act.

Given the sorry state they are in, neither the Congress nor the BJP appears to be in a position to mount a serious challenge to the BJD in the near future. It is BJD alone that can defeat itself if it continues to hurtle along on the road to self-destruction in the day to come.