Op-Ed: In Embarrassing Itself, the BJD Has Tried to Save Itself Greater Embarrassment

The mask has fallen off. The slip is showing. And the jumla of ‘equi-distance’ now lies in tatters. By chickening out of the debate on the no confidence motion moved by the Opposition on Friday, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has proved that it is not averse to cutting deals with the BJP on the sly despite its oft-repeated claim of maintaining equal distance from both the BJP and the Congress.

The party wouldn’t have faced this embarrassment had it stuck to its original decision of participating in the debate, made its point forcefully and then walked out. But by choosing to walk out even before the debate began, the party has laid itself open to the charge of fooling people with its ‘equi-distance’ rhetoric all these years.

The contrast with how Shiv Sena, another party that changed its stand on the no trust vote overnight, acted couldn’t have been starker. Here was a party, an ally of the BJP and part of the NDA government at the Centre, which went back on its decision taken on Thursday to vote against the motion and decided to abstain from voting for nothing more serious than the wooing of Swabhiman Shetkari Sangathan MP Raju Shetti by the BJP ahead of the vote. Now, let us contrast this with how the BJD conducted itself on the issue. The party that is supposed to be engaged in a fierce, no-holds-barred battle with the BJP in the state could not muster the courage to point fingers at the Central government to back its persistent claim of Central neglect.

The reason cited by BJD leaders for the change of stance is laughable to say the least. It seems they were neither briefed properly by the party leadership on how to justify the U-turn nor given enough time to come up with a convincing reason. While announcing the party’s decision to walk out without even waiting for the debate to begin, BJD Parliamentary Party leader Bhartruhari  Mahatab said the NDA government, like its predecessor the UPA, had done grave ‘injustice’ to Odisha and hence no purpose would be served by taking part in the debate. Really, Mr. Mahatab? If the NDA government has indeed done ‘injustice’ to the state, was it not all the more reason for you to take part in the debate and put the Centre in the dock? Who exactly were you trying to fool with this convoluted argument?

Parliamentary Party spokesperson Kalikesh Singhdeo’s defence of the indefensible was even more pathetic. He said his party did not take part in the debate because the outcome was a foregone conclusion and there was no point in taking part in this ‘drama’. Are you trying to suggest that the TDP, the Congress and the TMC didn’t know the outcome and were fools in moving the motion, Mr. Singhdeo?

Since no answers are forthcoming from the BJD on what led to this overnight volte-face, one can only speculate about the reasons. It is possible that the BJP, concerned by the sudden change of mind of its ‘blow hot cold, blow cold’ ally Shiv Sena, put pressure on the BJD to skip the debate to save itself more embarrassment and the BJD, apprehending a further tightening of the CBI noose on its neck, was only too willing to oblige. This is just about the only rational explanation for what the BJD did. Any other explanation would not carry conviction.

The CBI threat is real. In its effort to browbeat the BJD into submission, the BJP first put the four-year old, on again-off again probe into the multi thousand crore chit fund scam on the fast track, sending shivers down the spines of some BJD leaders and key officials of the Naveen Patnaik government. Next, it dusted off the nine-year old case of the sinking of Mongolian vessel MV Black Rose off the Paradip coast and handed it over to the CBI in the hope of embarrassing the ruling party since the 23, 000 tonnes of illegally mined iron ore it was carrying is believed to have been shipped by a company owned by the family members of a powerful ex minister and MLA from Jajpur district. As if that was not bad enough, the IOCL has now requested the CBI to investigate how two OCL petrol pumps – one each in Kendrapara and Paradip – were allotted to Benazir Bibi, the wife of dreaded Kendrapara gangster Syed Usman Ali alias ‘Tito’.

It is clear that the BJD has far too many skeletons in its cupboard to defy the BJP led government at the Centre and risk being embarrassed in the run up to the 2019 elections. Discretion, as they say, is indeed the better part of valour.

In doing what it did on Friday, the BJD has obviously embarrassed itself. But in doing so, it was obviously trying to save itself a greater embarrassment.

(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).