New Delhi: Noting that "anti-incumbency and corruption" will be major factors against Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the Assembly polls next year, former BJD MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda has said the political landscape in the state has changed and the BJP or the Congress can no longer be written off.
Panda, who quit the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) last month, told PTI in an interview that he left the party on moral and ethical grounds and not for any political opportunity, amid speculations that the BJP, the Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party are warming up to him.
"The chief minister developed a very good image. That was the biggest strength of the BJD. But now it has been four terms and this is the 19th year. By the time the election takes place, they would be in their 20th year. The chief minister's image aside, the image of the BJD and that of many of its representatives at grassroots level is a different matter altogether," he said.
A founding member of the BJD, which was formed in the late 1990s, Panda said many of those who had started out as enthusiastic political activists 20 years ago are now "fat cat contractors and fixers" and "obviously have a stake" in the increasing instances of crime and corruption in the state.
"This, I think, will be a drag on the party," he said.
"Also, the political landscape has changed. Earlier the second party that was there was the Congress, while the BJP was a distant third. That position has reversed. Today the BJP has become a clear number two. But the Congress also should not be written off. It recently appointed a new PCC (state unit) president and they have suddenly again become very active. They have presence all over the state. So no one should be written off in Odisha because it is a very fluid situation," Panda said.
But most of all, incumbency would matter, the 54-year-old former BJD MP said.
"We have seen that in Tripura and other places. No matter if the chief minister is popular, incumbency matters and it will matter in Odisha too," he said.
Panda said Patnaik needs to fix some fundamental problems in the BJD, and alleged that a coterie has emerged around the chief minister which has a "stranglehold" on the party.
"I have appealed time and time again on Twitter, on Facebook, in media for the last one year and he (Naveen Patnaik) did not respond. I fear that it may be too late. Or maybe somehow he is not able to implement these changes that are necessary or maybe the coterie has become too strong for whatever the reasons maybe, because if these fundamental problems are not fixed things will be tough (for BJD)," he said.
Panda, who has also resigned as a Lok Sabha MP subject to approval of the Speaker -- said there have clearly been a lot of scams in Odisha in the last few years but the BJD has not acted against them.
"You have seen the chit fund scams. Many people, including some MLAs and even an MP of the BJD, have been arrested. Unlike the first three terms (of the BJD), where anybody accused of such scams or arrested was suspended by the party. That has not happened now.
"Nowadays, even though people have been arrested for scams, they continue to be party members and only people like me are suspended. So there has been a change in the norms of the party," he said.
Asked about his political future, he said that quitting the BJD and resigning as an MP is a major turning point in his life and he does not want to take any hasty decisions.
"I have not resigned because of any political opportunity. I have resigned because of the way the party has treated me and because the way it has veered away from its principles. And it was untenable for me to continue," he said.
"There is no yes or no to anybody. I am keeping all options open. I will take a well thought out decision because this is not a frivolous matter. It is a very serious turning point in my life. I have to take a major decision in my life," Panda added.
With around 10 months to go for next parliamentary polls, Panda that said he would continue serving his "karmabhoomi" Kendrapara in whatever way he can to ensure its development and also continue to champion causes such as privacy and data protection, judicial, parliamentary and electoral reforms, for which he had introduced private member's bills in Parliament.