BJD cracks widen, groups hold meeting

Bhubaneswar/London: Sparking speculation of cracks within the ruling BJD, two groups lastnight held separate meetings at the houses of party MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is on an official visit to London.

At least 21 BJD legislators, including three ministers met at the house of Mohapatra with some leaders terming the exercise as a "pressure tactics" by one group close to the Rajya Sabha member at a time when Patnaik is away.

Reacting to the development Patnaik deplored the attempts to divide the party and said he would shortly return to Bhubaneswar.

"I understand that in my absence an MP of my party is stirring trouble against my state government. And also trying to divide the Biju Janata Dal. This is deplorable," Patnaik told PTI in London.

"I am in London on official government work. I will be returning to Bhubaneswar shortly," he added.

The meeting at Mohapatra`s house was attended by Housing and Urban Development Minister Sharada Nayak, Commerce and Transport Minister Sanjeev Sahoo and Women and Child Development Minister Anjali Behera.

Among others CPI legislator Adikanda Sethi, an independent MLA, former Bhubaneswar Mayor Mihir Mohanty and some local corporators also attended the meeting which went on late into the night.

Dismissing suggestions that the meeting at Pyari`s house could be part of a campaign against Patnaik, party MLA Bishnu Das told reporters that party leaders met to discuss plans to make the bandh called on May 31 in protest against petrol price hike a success.

Echoing his claim, another BJD MLA Arabinda Dhali said the meeting discussed strategies for the state-wide bandh.

However, BJD MLA Prabhat Biswal described Mohapatra as the chief advisor and strategist of the ruling BJD under whose direction the party has been in power in Odisha for the last 12 years. He also described Patnaik as the leader of the party.

In a parallel meeting at Naveen Nivas, about 20 party MLAs including state Finance Minister Prafulla Ghadai and former ministers Damodar Rout and Debasis Nayak met.

Referring to the meeting at Pyari`s house, Rout said, "Some people have gathered at the Rajya Sabha MP`s house. They won`t succeed. Popular mandate is with Naveen Patnaik."

Rout also claimed to have information that a signature campaign for some unknown purpose was going on at Mohapatra`s house, while several senior BJD leaders said the gathering at the MP`s residence at Saheed Nagar was aimed at mounting pressure on Patnaik.

Reacting to the developments, BJD MP B Mahtab told PTI in Delhi, "It does not augur well the way senior leaders are behaving. Hope good sense prevails."