Column: BJD-The Future Question

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is on a high following its landslide victory in the just concluded Bijepur assembly by-poll. On present form it seems to be miles ahead of its rivals—BJP and Congress—who have utterly failed to project themselves as an alternative to Patnaik. Congress is down in the dumps having lost the tag of main opposition party and BJP, the newly crowned MOP, is yet to win the confidence of the people to be able to throw any real challenge to the BJD.

Does that mean BJD has nothing to worry about? For the moment it may be on the top of the world but the party must think of the future, of a future, let’s say 20 years from now. It is no secret that the state’s most successful regional party depends almost entirely on the charisma of its undisputed leader, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. He is its mascot and main vote catcher.

Irrespective of what his critics say about his Odia he can communicate with his people in a manner no other leader of his generation can. His “Mu ta khusi, apanamane khusi ta?” ( I am happy are you people happy?) rings louder than the rhetoric of his political opponents during election campaigns. He just waves at the people and wins hands down.

Political observers have been trying to decipher the mystique of Naveen Patnaik ever since he stepped into politics more than 20 years ago in the wake of his father, Biju Patnaik’s death. They are yet to understand him fully.

Many are surprised by his phenomenal success in politics, an art he seems to have mastered much better than some of his seasoned rivals who have plied the trade for a much longer period than him. If winning elections alone has to be the criterion of success in politics he has broken all records and left his illustrious father far behind.

The obvious question to ask then is what is the source of Patnaik’s charisma? Does it emanate from the fact that he happens to be the son of Biju Babu, one of the most respected politicians of the state, or there is something else to it?

Naveen Patnaik, in my opinion, needed the crutch of his father’s name only during his initial years in politics. Today irrespective of the fact that he and his party continue to hype up Biju legacy because of its obvious political advantages he stands on his own. His appeal lies in being different—he does not fit the image a typical Indian neta who likes to impress with bombastic speeches or exaggerated mannerisms. His fluency in Odia is still doubted and he prefers, unlike most other politicians, to be laconic.

Therein lies his appeal. To an electorate fed up with the rhetoric of run-of-the-mill politicians, he arrived on the state’s political scene like a refreshing novelty. His poor Odia was as much of an interesting curiosity as his crumpled kurta-pyjama. His smile was winsome. But what was most important was that he inspired trust. He was perceived to be sincere. His credentials became stronger with each passing year as he delivered on his promises.

That makes him the leader he is. But coming back to the basic question of BJD’s future the biggest problem for the party is the indispensability of Naveen Patnaik. By all accounts today it is a one-man party. It’s cadre strength and organisational reach notwithstanding it cannot hope to win elections without the magic of Patnaik. That is an issue the party must ponder seriously when planning for the future.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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)