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Column: When Exactly Was The BJD ‘Secular’?

By Sandeep Sahu

Those who value secularism are aghast at the BJD’s decision to support the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament, even after its suggestion to include Sri Lanka in the list of countries from where minorities have fled into India due to religious persecution, was rejected. But frankly, this writer cannot understand why they should be shocked or even surprised. If they have been living under the illusion that the BJD is a secular party so far, it is their fault, not the BJD’s. If only they had cared to follow the birth and evolution of the party since 1997, there would have been no room for surprise.

For those who might have forgotten the circumstances under which the BJD was born in 1997, here is a quick recount. Biju Patnaik, the Janata Dal patriarch in Odisha, died on April 17, 1997. Naveen Patnaik, Biju Babu’s younger son, was fielded by the Janata Dal as the candidate from the Aska Lok Sabha constituency, which had fallen vacant after the senior Patnaik’s death and expectedly won easily. Before the year was out, those who had invited Naveen to take over his father’s mantle split the JD and formed a new party named after Biju Babu; the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with the BJP playing midwife. The irony could not have been starker. The party named after Biju, who remained implacably opposed to the BJP till his last breath (even calling it a ‘party of Gandhiji’s killers’) joined hands with the BJP even before the late leader’s first death anniversary. For a full 11 years after that, the two parties remained the closest of allies, ruling the state and partnering each other in Parliament. Naveen can hardly be faulted if some people still thought he remained wedded to secularism.

Ignoring this 11-year bonhomie between the BJD and the BJP, commentators across the country hailed Naveen as the new icon of secularism after his claim in the run up to the 2009 elections that ‘every bone’ in his body is secular. They cited his parting of ways with the BJP after the Kandhamal riots as clinching proof of his secular credentials. Little did they know that this theory is a cleverly thought out lie propagated and perpetuated by Naveen’s image-makers and apologists.

Consider this. The anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal began almost immediately after Hindutva warrior Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his followers were gunned down by Maoists on the night of August 23, 2008. And Naveen broke off with the BJP on March 7, 2009, barely days before the elections. In other words, he was perfectly happy staying in bed with the BJP for well over six months after the riots, never once uttering a word against the latter’s alleged role in the riots during this time. Let us not forget that it was Chief Minister Naveen, who was also the Home Minister of the state at the time (as he is now), who had allowed the 150 km-long procession through the district by the Hindutva brigade with the body of the Hindu leader. Anyone who has followed the sequence of events at the time would tell you that it was this procession, during which provocative slogans were raised, that raised the communal temperature and prepared the ground for the month-long riots that followed.

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For those who still attribute Naveen’s decision to severe his ties with BJP to the Kandhamal, here is what he had told reporters while announcing the decision late in the evening on March 7, 2009; “Unfortunately, the seat-sharing talks between BJD and BJP have failed. Therefore, we will go to the polls separately. The formula proposed by BJP is unacceptable to us.” There was not even a passing mention of the BJP’s role in the Kandhamal riots. It was pure electoral calculation, attributed to the then BJD ‘margadarshak’ Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, and had absolutely nothing to do with principles of secularism. The ‘secularism’ angle was obviously an afterthought. If some people still chose to bury, like ostriches, their heads in the sand and continued to believe in the myth of the BJD’s secular credentials till now, it was entirely their fault.

This, however, is not to suggest that Naveen is communal. He is actually an iconoclast in religious matters. The only religion that he believes in is the religion of power. He is perfectly happy sleeping with a supposedly communal party like BJP as long as his religion is protected. That is the short and long of 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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