The Importance of Being Bijoy Mohapatra

By Sandeep Sahu

He fits the expression ‘an enigma wrapped in a mystery’ like very few politicians in Odisha do. It is hard to think of another neta who remains relevant without being a minister, a party chief or even an MLA. In fact, he has not seen the inside of the Assembly in the last 17 years. He is one person whose importance is independent of the party he belongs to and the position he holds in it. The uncharitable seek to dismiss him as ‘Bibruti’ (statement) Mohapatra, but such is the irresistible power of his ‘Bibruti’ that the crème de la crème of the media line up at his residence at short notice whenever he calls a press conference. TV channels routinely show his press conferences live while rival parties stay glued to the TV to hear what he says and then prepare a statement with great alacrity to counter what he says.

If all these clues are still not enough, let it be made clear that one is talking about Bijoy Mohapatra, notionally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but actually a party-less one man anti-Naveen brigade, a leader who is admired and feared in equal measure by supporters and opponents alike.

Those who have seen him in his heydays between 1990-1995 when he was the official Water Resources and Parliamentary Affairs minister and unofficial Home minister of the state under the Biju Patnaik government genuinely believed he was Chief Minister material (Some people still do). He was the No. 2 in the cabinet teeming with veterans like Ramakrushna Patnaik, Dr. Damodar Rout and Narasingha Mishra (now the Congress Legislature Party leader) and the de facto state unit president of the Janata Dal (JD,) running the affairs of the party on his leader’s behalf. The great man himself (Biju) trusted him completely and was always happy to allow him to play the principal troubleshooter and handle the nitty gritty in the party though many old timers still believe that it was this unquestioning trust that led to the completely unexpected defeat of the JD in the 1995 Assembly elections. There were allegations (which, for obvious reasons, could never be verified) that he fielded rebels against the officially chosen JD candidates in many constituencies ensuring the defeat of the latter in the process. [Some people attribute the fact that he never held any position of power ever again to this act of ‘betrayal’ of his leader and even call it ‘just desserts’. But that doesn’t explain how Srikant Jena, the biggest betrayer of Biju Patnaik, went on to become a Union minister no less than thrice after ditching his leader and even conspiring against him!]

After the death of Biju Patnaik in April, 1997, Bijoy Mohapatra, along with Dilip Ray, was at the forefront of the efforts to usher Naveen Patnaik into Odisha politics, a decision he was to rue for the rest of his political career. Even though he knew nothing about politics, Naveen was quick to realize the overweening ambitions of Bijoy and plotted his downfall (allegedly with help from his erstwhile mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra) with an act of chicanery that has few parallels in Odisha politics. Even as the then Chairman of the all-powerful Political Affairs Committee (PAC) of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was busy finalizing tickets for others, he found his own ticket cancelled at the very last minute leaving him no time to file his nomination even as an independent. With no other option in sight, Bijoy decided to support the Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate Trilochan Behera in his stronghold of Patkura with the understanding that the latter would vacate the seat if he won. But Naveen proved one up on him even in the post-election scenario, winning over Behera to his side and making sure that Bijoy did not enter the Assembly.

Bijoy Mohapatra has tried out everything he could – forming his own party Odisha Gana Parishad (OGP), merging his party with NCP and finally joining the BJP – in a desperate bid to enter the Assembly and regain his rightful political stature. But a scheming Naveen has put paid to all his efforts, going to incredible lengths to ensure that his bête noire doesn’t have an opportunity to put him on the mat in the Assembly.

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Naveen may have succeeded in his efforts to prevent the entry of Bijoy into the Assembly, but he has never been able to stop him from consistently putting him on the mat outside the Assembly. While many of his close associates like Tathagat Satapathy have deserted him and crossed over to Naveen’s side, he remains rock solid in his opposition to the BJD boss and Chief Minister. In fact, there are reasons to believe that he joined the BJP after its split with BJD in the fond hope that it would be his best bet for his anti-Naveen crusade, only to find that despite the acrimonious parting of ways, the central leaders of his new party are not averse to cutting deals with Naveen. It would not be an exaggeration to say he has been sidelined in the party primarily because of his unrelenting opposition to Naveen. But he has always remained politically relevant because his tirade against Naveen has always been sharp, focused and backed by facts and figures, in sharp contrast with the generalized ramblings of other opposition leaders.

It is possible that Bijoy Mohaptara may yet become a key player if the tide turns against Naveen sometime in the future or in the post-Naveen period. Even if he doesn’t, he would have still have played an important role in exposing the corruption and venality in the Naveen Patnaik dispensation.