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Op-Ed: ‘Equi-distance’ Jumla Buried For Good

So, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) voted for Harivansh Narayan Singh of the JD (U) in the election for Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha because the two parties had a common parentage: the Jayprakash Narayan movement. [Biju Patnaik, the man after whom the BJD is named and JP himself must be fidgeting vigorously in their respective graves!) We are also expected to believe that the BJD voted for the JD (U) and not the BJP!!

Well, when you have to defend the indefensible, you are bound to stumble, fumble and mumble such mumbo jumbo. This is as incredulous an explanation as the one offered to explain away the walkout by BJD MPs before the debate on the no-confidence motion against the Modi government on July 20. The party would have us believe that it did not vote for the motion because it was moved by the TDP, the party whose government in Andhra Pradesh was going furiously ahead with work on the Polavaram project to the detriment of Odisha! Such pride in the state and the determination to uphold its interests would have been endearing had it not been so phoney. Even BJD supporters could see that it was pathetic attempt at making a virtue out of a necessity.

One really pities those entrusted to defend the BJD decision in public by Naveen Patnaik, who has conveniently stayed in the background – as he has done on all such occasions in the past. When pressed for a categorical answer on whether the party would ever have any truck with the BJP, before or after the next election, both BJD spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb and its leader in the Rajya Sabha Prasanna Acharya chose to beat around the bush dubbing it a ‘hypothetical question’ rather than give a clear ‘yes or no’ answer.  In sharp contrast, Union Petroleum and Skill Development minister Dharmendra Pradhan was surprisingly forthright in asserting that the BJP would go alone in the coming polls.

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BJD supporters and apologists are making a big deal about the fact that the party played the ‘game changer’ in the latest round of the tug-of-war between the ruling NDA and the combined Opposition. Gloating about being wooed by both sides is good for self-indulgence. But to any neutral observer, it is clear that the ruling party has cut a sorry figure by cozying up to the ‘communal’ BJP. Only a fool would believe the utter crap about supporting the JD (U) and not the BJP. Why did BJP President Amit Shah, Union Home minister Rajnath Singh and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi have to call Naveen if it was only between the BJD and the JD (U)?

The jumla of ‘equi-distance’ that has served the party so well since 2014 is now truly buried for good. And it is not just the support for the NDA candidate in the election for the post of Deputy Chairperson of the Upper House that one is talking about. For all one knows, the BJD may never formally join the NDA fold again. But it has been clear for a while now that it would stay scrupulously clear of any anti-Modi grouping, at least till the next elections. First, the ruling party stayed away from the gathering of Opposition leaders at the swearing in of HD Kumaraswamy as Karnataka Chief Minister in January this year. Shortly after that, it supported the candidature of Ramnath Kovind in the Presidential election. The decision to back Opposition candidate Gopal Gandhi in the election for the post of Vice President soon thereafter was prompted more by political convenience than anything else because it helped the party keep its pretence of ‘equi-distance’ for a little longer. Soon, it was back to supporting the ruling dispensation at the Centre: first in the no-confidence motion moved by TDP in the Lok Sabha last month, then on the issue of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) in Assam and finally in the election of the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha on Thusday.

The question that begs an answer is why did Naveen do what he did? Why did the party that supposedly held all the aces going into the 2019 elections kowtow to a party with which it is fighting tooth and nail? The BJP rushing to Naveen with a begging bowl is perfectly understandable because it lacked the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But what on earth was Naveen’s compulsion to pledge his support? For a party that claims to be fighting for the state’s interests and is crying hoarse about ‘central neglect’, it would have made perfect political sense to cast its lot with the Opposition. But not only did he not back BK Hariprasad, the consensus Opposition candidate; it also denied itself the luxury of abstaining and thereby maintaining its façade of neutrality. Earlier, it had done the same last month when it went back on its decision taken the previous night and walked out even before the debate on the no-trust vote could begin. Walking out after the debate would not have made any difference to the final outcome or altered the reality that the move would have helped the BJP indirectly. But it would have at least given an opportunity for the BJD to highlight the concerns of the state in the highest forum of democracy. In choosing not to exercise this option, the BJD left no one in doubt that it chickened out at the last minute because it was wary of taking on the Modi government.

If the BJD has gone out of its way to keep the Modi government in good humour despite being in a presumably invincible position, there has to be a reason behind it. The more charitable explanation for this clear volte-face is that for all the bombast of BJP leaders in the state, the BJD still considers the Congress its main rival in the state and hence is wary of being seen in any group that has anything to do with the Congress. The more plausible reason, however, is the fear of the CBI. It would be revealing – and fascinating – to keep a hawk eye on what the CBI does between now and the next election on the chit fund scam it is investigating in the state. If, as Congress MP Ranjib Biswal said, the CBI now finds its ‘hands and feet’ tied, it would be the surest possible proof that the central agency is being used by the Modi government to bludgeon Naveen into submission.

In doing what he did, Naveen has left his supporters and apologists high and dry. Those who hailed Naveen as the great secular hope till the other day don’t have a place to hide now. It must have been devastating for them to find the man they looked up to as the great bulwark against the ‘invasion’ of the BJP into the state suddenly deciding to sleep with the enemy.

One also feels sorry for the state BJP leaders, who have been left looking rather foolish with their central leadership mollycoddling their bête noire. Just as Naveen’s claims of ‘equi-distance’ would now invite ridicule, the daily tirade against the Naveen government by BJP leaders and spokespersons would be dismissed as empty rhetoric from now on.

(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)

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