Op-Ed: Jay Panda stumps BJD by surprise resignation

The inevitable has happened, though the denouement came a little earlier than expected. Kendrapara MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda has joined the long list of people who helped found the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) but later fell foul of party supremo Naveen Patnaik for one reason or the other.

What happened after the death of Dr. Bansidhar Panda, Jay’s father and the doyen of Odisha industry, may well have hastened Jay’s decision to quit as he himself says in his resignation letter to the party president. And he has every reason to feel hurt by the conspicuous absence of the BJD brass, including the supremo, at his father’s funeral. It is, however, obvious that he has been bracing for the formal parting of ways for a while now. But going by the reaction of the party after the resignation became public this morning, one suspects it was caught off guard by Jay’s surprise decision. Senior BJD leader Debi Mishra’s statement that the party was refraining from any ‘political’ remarks till the ‘ekadashaha’ (11th day) ritual of the senior Panda is over in defence to Hindu tradition was downright laughable. Coming from a party that made sure that not a single leader, not even a minor minion, showed up at the Panda residence after Dr. Panda’s death, this response suggested that it was taken completely by surprise at Jay’s sudden decision and did not have time to formulate a proper, well thought out and reasoned response. Mishra could have simply said, as he and other BJD spokespersons have done on countless occasions in the past, that the party chief had received the resignation letter and would take a call on it at an ‘appropriate time’. Instead, Mishra, normally an extremely articulate person, mumbled and fumbled his way through his byte before TV cameras, clearly reading out a script written by someone else. Jay certainly won this round of the battle of attrition.

It is possible that Jay has tried to preempt and checkmate the party by not giving it an opportunity to expel him (he had only been suspended on January 24) by resigning on his own. Significantly, he has said in his resignation letter that he would be quitting his Lok Sabha too after the ‘period of bereavement’ is over. Some analysts are of the view the timing is designed to ensure that there is no by-election to the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seats. Sec 151 (A) of the Representation of People Act, they point out, says there would be no by-election if the remainder of the current Lok Sabha’s life is less than one year from the date an MP seat falls vacant. As per this provision, no by-election would be held if the Kendrapara seat ‘falls vacant’ on or after June 3. The point to note is the ‘bereavement period’s ends on June 2 and the seat would fall vacant only after his resignation is accepted by the Lok Sabha Speaker. This factor may or may not have been in Jay’s mind while resigning. But speculation about the timing is inevitable.

If the fate of those who have been thrown out of the party or driven to quit on their own is anything to go by, it would be foolish to believe it is the end of the story. One needs to go no farther than Bijoy Mohapatra to understand this. Naveen can be trusted to pull out all stops to ensure that Jay Panda doesn’t succeed in whatever he does next and doesn’t win any election he may fight in the future, whether as an independent or as a member of a political party. While trying to finish him politically, all efforts would also be made to turn the heat further on Pandas’ family businesses.

What actually led to this bitter falling out between two erstwhile buddies would perhaps always remain a mystery. The ‘official’ reason given by the BJD is that Jay was peeved at being denied the position of head of the standing committee on finance in Lok Sabha by Naveen after the 2014 elections and started acting against the interests of the party. On his part, Jay has said he earned the wrath of his party chief after he objected to the extra constitutional role played by his trusted lieutenant and private secretary VK Pandian. My own two penny worth assessment is that the falling out had to do with Naveen’s sense of insecurity and perception that Jay could be a potential threat in future since he has the stature, pedigree and financial muscle to emerge as a threat.

While suspending him from the party, the BJD had reeled out a long list of anti-party activities Panda has been supposedly guilty of. But it is instructive to note that the BJD did not consider hurling of eggs and stones on its sitting MP by its workers in Mahanga last May – that is months before his suspension – ‘anti-party’ activity. Considering that it took no action against those responsible for the attack, it is obvious that the BJD believes they were working in the interest of the party!

What next for Jay? Most people believe he is headed for the BJP. They point to his praise for many of the Modi government’s policies and decisions, especially in the economic sphere, and his inclusion in the PM’s entourage and parliamentary delegations to foreign countries to make their case. At the moment, that looks the most probable course, though Panda himself has not given any hint whatsoever so far that he is considering this option.

In the atmosphere of fear that prevails in BJD, it is unlikely that Panda’s exit would be followed by an exodus of disgruntled leaders, at least till the next elections. But if he does join the BJP as expected, it would certainly bolster the saffron party in the state.

(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.)