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Column: BJD Is Not Just ‘Dependent’ On Naveen; He Is Indispensable To It

By Sandeep Sahu

Did he mean it? Or was he just being disingenuous? It was, of course, magnanimous of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik to claim, while addressing the 22nd foundation day celebrations of the BJD on Thursday, that the party was not ‘dependent’ on him for its survival and growth. But was he being truthful?

Ask anyone – from the man on the streets to the political pundit – what would happen to the BJD in the event of Naveen not being around to lead it and the answer, I guess, would be the same: it would simply implode. In a party where all decision making power, even the most mundane and trivial one, vests exclusively on the chief, office bearers are there just to make the numbers and internal democracy is a completely unknown commodity, it is unthinkable how it can survive, let alone grow, without him.

Imagine a situation where Naveen is nowhere in the picture and think of what would become of the BJD. Can you think of another leader who can hold the party on a tight leash as he has done for 22 years now? To put it differently, is there any other leader inside the party or outside whose word, no matter how unpalatable, would be accepted by everyone from a panchayat level worker to a cabinet minister without a whimper? Without Naveen to campaign for them, how many of the leaders can win an election? Without Naveen to lead from the front, can the party as a whole win an election?

The fact is the BJD, like most ‘regional’ parties in India, is a one-man party. {There are, of course, a few one-woman parties too, TMC and BSP being the two most obvious.] All decision making in such parties flows from one person – or one family in some cases. Anyone who refuses to fall in line or play ball is immediately shown the door, internal democracy be damned. It is a tribute to Naveen Patnaik’s leadership quality that his party has constantly grown from strength to strength for over two decades, pushing the two biggest national parties closer and closer to the margins, even as many other regional parties have stumbled, risen and fallen again. It is his charisma and his connect with the people that have made this possible. Take him out of the equation and the BJD could well be reduced to a veritable akhada with factional leaders fighting their turf battles. With a resource-rich BJP waiting in the wings, the party could disintegrate in next to no time.

It is instructive to note in this context what happened to the man who once enjoyed immense power in the BJD, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, when his ambition got the better of him. Then the man who lorded over the party and hand-picked party candidates was reduced to a non-entity in a matter of days when he grew too big for his boots. The failed coup of March, 2012 emphasised, if any emphasis was needed at all, that he enjoyed power at the mercy of Naveen. Once he fell from grace and lost his mercy, he had nowhere to go. The Chief Minister’s trusted private secretary VK Pandian has, of course, enjoyed similar or even more power in both the party and the government than Pyari, but only at the mercy of his boss. Had it not been the case, cabinet ministers and bureaucrats several rungs higher than Pandian would not be taking orders from him without question. As a serving bureaucrat, he would be the last person to even contemplate upstaging his boss, more so in view of the ignominy that Mohapatra suffered for failing to keep his ambition in check. The moral of the story: the only person who matters in the BJD is Naveen Patnaik.

This being the case, what does one make of his declaration that the party is not ‘dependent’ on him? For one thing, the announcement has to be read in conjunction with his other major pronouncement made during the course of his typically brief speech: that the BJD is a people’s movement. Therefore, it appears to be aimed more at the people of Odisha than the party cadres (who, in any case, know that it’s a blatant lie!). In this context, one recalls his earlier statement, in response to a question by eminent journalist Prabhu Chawla on his succession plans. “The people of Odisha would choose the successor,” the BJD supremo had said on that occasion. The idea in both cases was to vest ownership of the party in the ‘people’ of the state while emphasizing his humility and detachment.

For another, it could be an exercise to prepare the ground to roll out a succession plan that the BJD boss may already have up his sleeve.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t change the one thing that everyone knows only too well. BJD is not just ‘dependent’ on Naveen; he is indispensable to it.

(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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