Op-Ed: Are We Witnessing The Making Of A Dynasty?

The media loves nothing more than speculation. Anticipating and second guessing the supposed moves of political parties and leaders is what it revels in. In doing so, it is never deterred by the absence of an official word on such a move. [In fact, it dreads the ‘official’ word, because as and when it comes, it invariably spoils the fun.] Convinced that the uncorroborated speculation would get the eyeballs, it seeks to compensate for the absence of an official word with a question (‘?’) or exclamation (!) mark (as the piece too does!). Thus headlines like “Modi to contest from Puri?”, “Bijay Mohapatra to return to BJD!” “Aparajita to be BJP’s CM candidate?” are guaranteed to set tongues wagging and people partaking of the fun in drawing room conversations, street corner gossip and small talk in office canteens.

It was thus no surprise when a flurry of speculative reports started appearing in the media in the last few days about an alleged move for the coronation of Arun Patnaik, BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s nephew, as the heir apparent in the Bjiu Janata Dal (BJD) during the coming Assembly elections. What apparently triggered the frenzied speculation was a WhatsApp group by the name ‘Arun Patnaik Fan Club’ floated by people supposedly close to Pranab Prakash ‘Bobby’ Das, widely believed to have the eyes and ears of the all-powerful Third Floor. Some reports have actually talked about the possibility of the Patnaik scion taking the electoral plunge in 2019 from either Jajpur or Bhubaneswar Assembly constituency.

There are a few reasons why this speculation has got more traction than the ones mentioned earlier. For one thing, the fact that the WhatsApp group was launched by supporters of ‘Bobby’, seen as the third most powerful person in the current dispensation, and has among its members other worthies like Arun Sahoo, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak and Culture and Tourism minister Ashok Panda lends it a certain credence. For another, if Naveen has a succession plan up his sleeve (I am sure he does), the 2019 election would be just the perfect time to reveal it because it would provide Arun enough time to ease into his job as the next generation flag-bearer of the Biju legacy.

As I have said before in this column, Naveen is too smart not to have his succession plan ready before he walks into the sunset and too clever not to know that the party would disintegrate in next to no time if anyone other than a member of the Patnaik family heads it. And with Naveen himself having no offspring and both elder brother Prem Patnaik and elder sister Gita Mehta past their prime, Arun Patnaik remains just about the only person in the family who can take the Biju legacy forward. Thus, it makes perfect political sense to launch Arun now because he needs to get a feel of how elections are fought and won before he takes his rightful place as the heir apparent. Hence, I, for one, would not dismiss the speculation about the junior Patnaik’s entry into Odisha politics as mere idle kite-flying.

There are three possible reasons behind the third generation Patnaik suddenly getting into the political discourse just months before the elections. First, there actually is a plan to field him in this election. Second, it could be a way of testing the waters without blooding him in this election for Naveen. [It is hard to believe that such a move could have been initiated by someone close to the party supremo without his nod.] And the third is: it could be a move by those keen to ingratiate themselves with Naveen and the successor so that they continue to wield power in the post-Naveen era. The situation, in fact, is not very different from 1997 when the crown was handed over on a platter to a ‘reluctant’ Naveen, a political novice at the time, by some leaders of the erstwhile Janata Dal, who thought they could make him dance to their tune. [It is another matter that they had to do all the dancing as the ‘novice’ played the master choreographer!]

Those pointing to Arun’s apparent lack of interest, expressed during his maiden visit to the state in January, 2015, to join politics or his all-too-obvious lack of experience, I am afraid, are innocent of the ways of politics where ‘No’, more often than not, means ‘Yes’ (Naveen himself is the brightest example of this) and lack of ‘experience’ is often a boon rather than a bane in family run parties like the BJD (again there is no better example of this than Naveen). What Arun lacks by way of political experience and knowledge of Odisha, its people, culture and language is more than compensated for by the mystique of the untested leader.

Arun, in fact, has a lot going for him. Unlike his uncle, who took the political plunge at the age of 49, he is young. Unlike Naveen again, he has a family member (Naveen) to mentor and prepare him for the big job. But like Naveen, he bears the most famous surname in Odisha and doesn’t speak Odia. But as his uncle has repeatedly proved over the last 20 years, far from being a handicap, not knowing the local language can actually be an ‘asset’!

Though Naveen succeeded his father, the Patnaik family has never been termed a ‘dynasty’ as yet because Biju kept his younger son away not just from politics but from the state as well all his life. But if the speculation about Arun’s entry to politics has a grain of truth (I believe it does), then the foundation for yet another political dynasty in the country could well be laid in this election.

(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)