Op-Ed: Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; BJP, BJD are still ‘frenemies’

By all accounts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went farther in his criticism of the Naveen Patnaik government at the two back to back public meetings in Talcher and Jharsuguda on Saturday than he has done since coming to power in May, 2014. The rally in Jharsuguda, in particular, was significant because it marked the first time when the PM raised the issue of ‘PC’ culture in the Naveen Patnaik government that requires people to pay bribes for things as basic as a ration card or a PMAY house.

It is not as if Modi has not criticized his ‘friend’ Naveen earlier. But the digs he has taken on the Naveen dispensation on earlier occasions have lacked the venom that he reserves for political rivals like, say, an Arvind Kejriwal or a Mamata Banerjee. They have mostly been of a kind that belongs to the “willing to hit but unwilling to hurt” variety. In this background, it can be said that Saturday was the first time he shed his inhibitions and showed a willingness to hit where it hurts the most. For, the BJD government is certainly on a sticky wicket when it comes to big ticket corruption and the ‘PC Culture’.

While this must have cockled the hearts of BJP leaders in Odisha, who have been sulking over the diffidence of its top central leaders, including PM Modi, to take on Naveen, does it really mark the beginning of an all-out, no-holds-barred fight to the finish ahead of the next elections? I am afraid the answer to this question has to be an emphatic ‘No’. Significantly, Naveen himself dubbed the barbs aimed at his government by Modi as an attempt ‘to enthuse’ BJP workers, which was not very far off the mark in this columnist’s view.

Equally importantly, both Modi and Naveen refrained from personal attacks against each other. While the PM talked in general terms about corruption in the government without naming or implicating Naveen, the latter, in his response, refrained from hitting back at Modi and trained his guns on Union Petroleum and Skill Development minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the man being projected by the BJP as its Chief Ministerial face, instead. Had Naveen been really been willing to hit back hard, he would have raised the Rafale scam, the issue which is threatening to become the Modi government’s Bofors moment, and not limited himself to corruption in the Ujjwala Yojana and the Skill Development mission, both of which come under the two departments headed by Pradhan. By refusing to rake up Rafale and other big corruption charges against the NDA government, the BJD chief has dropped enough hints that he has no intention of taking on Modi – at least not yet – and the rhetoric is only intended for public consumption. While the two ‘frenemies’ can be trusted to ratchet up the tirade against each other in the run up to the elections, it looks like they would stop short of hitting out at each other with the intention of hurting.

At the heart of this unwillingness to engage in a full-scare war of attrition is the uncertainty over the outcome of the next elections. The BJP knows that much water has flown down the Ganga since it won an unprecedented mandate in 2014 while the BJD supremo too knows that things are that honky dory for him in this election though he does show a nonchalance in public. Both leaders know they may need each other’s support post election and therefore are wary of pushing each other to a point of no-return. Recent happenings like the BJD support to the NDA government during the no trust motion against the NDA government, National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and the election of the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha would suggest that both sides are keeping the door ajar for a possible post-election understanding, if required.

Both the BJP and the BJD appear to have decided on a strategy that would have their leaders in Odisha continue with their daily, no-holds-barred attacks against each other till the elections even as top leaders of both parties continue to have a cozy relationship, a tried and tested tactic that paid rich electoral dividends to Naveen during the UPA years.

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; BJP, BJD are still ‘frenemies’.

(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)