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Opinion: Having The Best Of Both The Worlds!!

By Sandeep Sahu

“When in trouble, rant against the Centre!” It is a policy that has served the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) extremely well over the years, especially when an election is round the corner. And true to form, BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has invoked this time-tested formula – twice in the space of 48 hours – just as the state is bracing for the long delayed municipal elections in the new year and the panchayat elections a few months down the line.

The irony is hard to miss for anyone with even a cursory interest in politics. The tirade against the Centre is coming from someone who has backed the NDA government in Parliament on every major issue, including contentious ones like CAA and abolition of Article 370, for over six years now – much to the chagrin of the combined opposition, one may add. But this double game has stopped raising eyebrows long back. For over 16 years now, Naveen has managed to do the seemingly impossible by enjoying the best of relations with the party in power at the Centre while crying ‘Central neglect’ in the state in what is a classic case of ‘running with the hare and hunting with the hound’. Managing these two seemingly contradictory positions is certainly not easy, more so because the two national parties that have been in power at the Centre during this period – the Congress and the BJP – have also been the two major opposition parties in Odisha. But the BJD boss has managed it with aplomb.

The bonhomie between the BJD and the top leadership of the ruling party at the Centre has benefited the regional party in two major ways. On the one hand, it has saved the BJD government in the state from the kind of vindictive action that the Mamata Banerjee government in neighbouring West Bengal is facing right now. It has also ensured that the Centre would step in to bail out Naveen, his party and his government when needed. As the UPA government did by amending Rule 37 of the MMDR Act when the BJD government was facing the heat over the massive mining scam in the state. Or the NDA government has done by sitting over the Justice MC Shah Commission recommendation for a CBI probe into the mining scam for over six years now and making sure that the CBI inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court into the chit fund scam lost its way.

But the bigger advantage comes closer home. State leaders of the two national parties, which also happen to be the two major ‘Opposition’ parties in the state, are left red-faced, discredited and woefully short of credibility since Naveen enjoys the best of relationship with their ‘high command’. Their rants against the state government, therefore, appear hollow and their protest movements look like shadow boxing to the public even when they take up a worthy cause. Seasoned observers even see the unseen hand of Naveen in the choice of state unit presidents of the two national parties over the years!

The BJD supremo’s sudden outburst against the two national parties – the BJP in particular – comes at a time when his government is hurtling from one disaster to another. Much to the discomfiture of the government, the Pari murder case is now getting national attention while the startling revelations about the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by the would-be in-laws – IFS officer Abhyakant Pathak and BJD MLA from Gopalpur Pardeep Panigrahy – has embarrassed the government no end because all this loot was taking place for years right under the nose of the government. The bigger cause for embarrassment, however, is the fact that Panigrahy was for long the blue-eyed boy of Naveen, looking after his constituency, managing the affairs of the party in his ‘home’ district in his capacity as district BJD president and serving his council of ministers as Higher Education minister. In taking the unprecedented step of expelling his former acolyte from the party for his allegedly ‘anti people activities’ – perhaps the first time such a ground has been invoked to throw someone out of a party – Naveen is merely trying to shake off his past association with Panigrahy and perpetuate his cultivated image as someone who ‘doesn’t spare anyone’. Going by past experience, he may even succeed in convincing the people about this narrative. But the Pari case and the skeletons slowly tumbling out of the cupboard in respect of the ‘management’ of the Covid -19 pandemic by his government can certainly singe him. That explains the timing of the tirade against the national parties.

A key factor in Naveen’s enviable ability to ‘manage’ the national parties is his chameleon-like ability to change colours and redraw his equations with the latter according to the changing political equations. When asked about his opinion on Narendra Modi as Prime Minister on the eve of the 2014 elections, the BJD supremo, not one prone to using strong terms about political personalities, had said he would be a ‘disaster’! But we have all seen the ‘ease of doing business’ he has found with the ‘disaster’ over the last six years and more.

Naveen has certainly mastered the rather difficult art of having the best of both the worlds!!

(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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