Op-Ed: Jay Panda’s BJP Gambit

Bhubaneswar: Setting all speculations at rest former Kendrapara MP, Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda has finally joined the Bhartiya Janata Party. His saffron switch was expected, but yet when it came about, it was a big media event given his image as a high-profile politician who used to be the intellectual face of Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Delhi not very long ago. Fortunately for him, his falling out with Patnaik did not impact his friendship with leaders across the political spectrum.

Suave and articulate Panda, to be sure, enjoys some distinct advantages as a politician. For one he hails from a resourceful family which has been one of the pioneers of industrialisation in the state. Thus, irrespective of the party he represents, he is unlikely to face a resource constraint while contesting elections. In this respect, he is more or less self-reliant which is important in today’s political scenario when even parties like Congress are finding themselves facing a resource crunch.

Equally significant is the fact that his family owns perhaps the most popular television channel of the state. While it gives him a distinct edge over his rivals individually the party he has chosen to adopt would find it to be a great asset at the time of elections. For the BJP, which has been struggling to shore up its fortunes in Odisha since the drubbing it received in 2009 elections, Panda’s entry into the party is a win-win situation.

Badly bruised in 2009, when it was blanked out in the Lok Sabha and could just manage six seats in the state assembly, the BJP had strained its every nerve to turn around its fortunes in 2014 elections, but the results once again left its supporters heart-broken. The party’s assembly tally rose to a face-saving 10 and it just scraped through on the Sundergarh Lok Sabha seat.

But Odisha is now a key element of BJP’s Look East-policy with party’s top leadership working overtime to ensure that the state yields rich electoral dividends this time. The repeated visits of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and BJP president, Amit Shah are proof that the state figures prominently in BJP’s scheme of things.

But BJP cannot hope to turn around its fortunes in the state without a bunch of credible and popular leaders. This remains an area of concern for the party which invariably has to rely upon its two union ministers, Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram for campaigning around the state. The departure of leaders like former ministers, Bijay Mohapatra and Dilip Ray has not helped matters.

Here again Panda would prove to be an asset for the party. Among the better known leaders of the state, he can be one of the star campaigners for the party while also focusing on his own constituency, Kendrapara which, though, could prove to be a challenge for him given its reputation as a BJD bastion. The BJD in Kendrapara would also try to leverage the fact that this prestigious coastal constituency was nurtured for a long time by late Biju Patnaik after whom the party is named.

If Panda decides to contest from his old constituency, which seems quite likely, he will have to rely heavily on his personal contact with voters and the good work that he has done in the area through his MPLAD fund. He may also try to gain popular sympathy by projecting himself as a victim of BJD’s machinations and government’s vendetta but one is not sure if this strategy would cut much ice with the electorate in a constituency which has no history of ever electing a BJP leader to the Lok Sabha.

(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)