Did Naveen pick Sasmit to show secular muscles, post saffron handholding?

Bhubaneswar: After a stint of nearly two decades in politics, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has emerged not only as a politician, but also one who is quite calculative.

Naveen has scrutinised every political relationship via the prism of ‘political cost -benefit equation’.

There are instances galore in his over two-decade long political career, where Naveen had very scrupulously worked out at the ‘cost-benefit’ equation of every big political decision he made.

The latest episode of Rajya Sabha (RS) polls 2019 display this trademark policy of Naveen in vivid details.

Delivering a bouncer, Naveen shocked all and sundry when he announced support to a BJP nominee for the upcoming RS polls in Odisha. Even, many BJD veterans were shocked over the CM’s pick for the RS seats from the BJD benches.

As if tossing out all speculations aside, CM Patnaik made BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra party’s nominee for the RS. Political observers read a lot over this meticulous decision of Naveen when seen in the context of first ever direct political engagement with BJP after the acrimonious split in 2009. Post 2009, BJD has never been seen tilting so conspicuously towards the BJP.

Significantly, BJD – BJP parted ways over the Kandhamal riots in 2009. And Naveen then tried very assiduously to display his secular bones, he even decided to join the third front led by communists and NCP.

Coincidentally, when Naveen had overtly come so close to BJP in 2019, he did a cost-benefit calculation to name Sasmit Patra as BJD’s RS candidate.

Interestingly, Sasmit Patra, though undoubtedly has the oratory skills of a good spokesperson, for long was associated with Odisha Minority Forum that is still working in Kandhamal and continues to hold a big sway over the minority community there.

Sasmit’s grandfather Reverend Sadananda Patra was a highly regarded Christian leader in the State. And his father Swaroopananda Patra was the president of Odisha Minority Forum.

It needs to be noted that post the much-claimed aborted coup in 2012, Swaroopananda had quit BJD and joined the political outfit Odisha Jan Manch (OJM) led by late Pyarimohan Mohapatra. Later, Sasmit had joined the Congress party.

Prior to the 2014 elections, Sasmit along with some Christian leaders had joined the BJD. Naveen had then given his famous one-liner, “I am delighted that some Christian leaders, including Father Dibakar Parichha, have joined BJD.”

So, while playing his move of acquiring a bit of saffron hue, a scheming Naveen picked up Sasmit Patra as RS nominee to display his secular muscles and soothe the ruffled feathers of the minority community in Kandhamal, who voted in a big way during the 2019 simultaneous polls. The community has emerged as the kingmaker in as many as three (of seven) assembly constituencies.

Moreover, Naveen has decided to support BJP’s Ashwini Vaishnaw as he is aware that BJD needs support of some 4-5 MLAs in the next round of RS polls to be held in April 2020.

While lending his support to BJP in 2019, Naveen has not only ensured clean sweep of all 4 RS seats in 2020 but also received the gift of deputy speaker post in Lok Sabha.