BJD: Things Are Falling Apart, Centre Can’t Hold

By Sandeep Sahu

The surest sign that all is not well in a political party is when leaders of the party talk to each other – or rather talk at each other – or air their grievances through the media, both traditional and social. By this reckoning, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) looks genuinely ailing. The Tathgat Satpathy-Baijayant Panda spat is only the latest in a series of battles fought by leaders of the ruling party through the media.

Sample this: a district unit president of the party (Jayram Pangi) accuses party leaders, including a minister supposedly close to the BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, of bribery after his preferred man is denied the opportunity to head the zilla parishad. A veteran minister (no prizes for guessing who it is) engages in a two-pronged verbal duel on TV with the district unit president of his party on the one hand and a powerful MLA on the other. The district unit president, in turn, is charged by a sitting MLA with abducting two panchayat samiti members to deny her acolyte a shot at the post of vice president of the zilla parishad.

The most notable thing about all these intra-party battles being fought in the open is that the supremo is unable to do anything about it. Polite exhortations through party spokespersons to air their grievances in the party forum have fallen on deaf ears while the threat of disciplinary action in the form of suspension/expulsion has long ceased to act as a deterrent. The man who could wield the axe against party men for much lesser crime is, for reasons that are all too discernible, unable to act now. It is a classic case of “Things are falling apart; the centre cannot hold” (‘The Second Coming’, YB Yeats).

One may disagree with the venue chosen by Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda to air his views. But judged strictly on its content, his piece in ‘The Samaja’ today titled ‘BJD: Time for Introspection’ is unexceptionable. As he was quick to point out after the article predictably created a furore on Tuesday, it was an honest introspection of the way the BJD has been going since its stupendous fourth successive victory in 2014. As was only to be expected, the knives are already out for him. But it would be a pity if this is considered anti-party activity and disciplinary action is taken against the suave MP from Kendrapara.

That the man who has chosen to take to a newspaper to air his views was once the BJD supremo’s blue-eyed boy and the party’s face in Lutyen’s Delhi suggests that the normal channels of communication with the party boss have broken down. Naveen Patnaik, secretive and elusive at the best of times, has become even more hard-to-get in the recent past. Interestingly, the Chief Minister appears to have embarked on a conscious image makeover drive at a personal level. Discerning observers have not failed to notice that of late he has been obliging youth and students with selfies and allowing a room-full of girl students inside his chamber, things that were unimaginable in the 17 years that he has been Chief Minister. One of these days, he may actually discard his elaborate security paraphernalia and start moving in a car with the windows open, waiving to the crowd on the road like yore.

This conscious move at image makeover suggests Naveen has realized his arrogant manners had begun to put people off. But it also suggests that he is under the impression that a return to his smiling visage is all that is required to put things back on track for his party and government. Sorry Mr. Chief Minister, things are much worse than that. After 17 years of uninterrupted, untrammeled power, the rot has gone too deep to be cured with a mere image makeover of his political persona. The days when his face was enough to bring the votes are well and truly over. He needs to back it up with solid work on the ground – both in the party and the government.

Rather than going after the likes of Panda, what the party supremo needs to do to put his fast crumbling house back into shape is to infuse some fresh ideas, promote and empower some fresh, unsullied faces and woo back those who are feeling stifled within the party. He has already hinted at a rejig both in the party and the government. He needs to drop the tainted among his ministers and close confidantes and induct some people who are relatively cleaner and inspire confidence. Most importantly, he now needs to take things into his own hands rather than depend on a coterie to run things on his behalf – both in the party and the government. It is not a role he is familiar with, but he has to do it if he wants to win an unprecedented fifth successive term as Chief Minister.