Op-Ed: Laughable Attempt At Rewriting History

It is a pathetic attempt at falsification of history. Health minister Pratap Jena’s claim that the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was founded on the ‘ideals’ of Biju Patnaik and the BJP had nothing to do with its formation must have made the legendary leader squirm in his grave.

Unfortunately for Jena, there are plenty of living people who have seen Biju Patnaik and known him as someone who was implacably opposed to the BJP – and its previous avatar Jan Sangh – till his last breath. Though Biju Babu was a minister in the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai, which was formed after the post-Emergency elections in 1977, he was among the first to side with Charan Singh when he raked up the issue of ‘dual membership’ of RSS members that ultimately led to the split in the party.

If, as Jena says, Biju Babu’s ideals and Naveen Patnaik’s ‘leadership’ were all that the BJD was founded on, one wonders where was the need to tie up with the BJP at all – or even force a split in the erstwhile Janata Dal in the first place? Naveen could have just carried on with the party his father headed on the strength of Biju Babu’s ‘ideals’ and his own ‘leadership’ if this was the case, couldn’t he?

Since Pratap Jena was yet to become an MLA when the Janata Dal was split and the BJD was carved out of it, it is possible he was not fully conversant with the behind-the-scene goings on that finally led to the split and the alliance with the BJP. [The more plausible explanation for what he has said, however, is that he was plain lying – and knew he was doing so when making that statement!] As someone who was appointed the president of the Janata Chhatra Parishad by Biju Babu, he must have known his leader’s lifelong aversion to the BJP-Jan Sangh brand of politics. As someone who had a ringside view of the tumultuous events during that phase of Odisha’s political history, this columnist can vouch for the fact that the BJP played midwife in the birth of the BJD.

It is true that it wanted the breakaway faction to join the BJP outright and some of the leading lights of the formation were not averse to the idea. But what put paid to the BJP’s plans was the opposition to this idea by the majority faction led by Naveen Patnaik, who perhaps thought it would be too drastic a departure from what Biju Babu stood for all his life and may not go down well with those who loved the great man. So, both sides opted for Plan B. The BJP settled for the formation of and alliance with BJD while the faction led by Naveen went ahead with the alliance. \

On their part, a host of leaders chose to stay on in the Janata Dal. But after witnessing the stupendous success of the BJD-BJP alliance first in the Lok Sabha elections in 1998 and 1999 and then the Assembly elections in 2000, many of them lined up before Naveen literally begging to be taken in. Prafulla Ghadai, Dr. Damodar Rout, Surendra Nayak and Nalini Kanta Mohanty were among those who quit the JD and ended up in the BJD. In fact, the only person who can legitimately claim to have stuck to the ‘ideals’ of Biju till his death was Ashok Das, the president of the Janata Dal who happens to be the father of all-powerful BJD MLA Pranab Prakash Das!

Cut to December, 2008. With barely weeks to go for the polls, Naveen Patnaik stunned everyone with his announcement about severing the alliance with the BJP unilaterally. But those who followed the developments at the time know that he was not sure if it was a bright idea so close to the election. It was the late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who convinced a reluctant Naveen that the party would reap rich political dividends by such a move and would win at least 100 seats in the Assembly. And how correct he was! The wily former bureaucrat, who ran the party on Naveen’s behalf, had an enviable, amazing understanding of the political equations at the grassroots level and was bang on with his prediction. Pratap Jena is right about the second part of his statement: that the BJP has never really recovered from that parting of ways till date.  But for him to claim that the BJD has inherited the Biju legacy is a travesty of truth.

Far from following the ‘ideals ‘ of Biju Patnaik, the BJD under Naveen Patnaik has actually trampled on everything that the legendary leader held dear during his long and illustrious career. Biju Babu wanted Odias to hold their heads high; his son has made them into a race beholden to the government. Biju Babu was the perhaps the most accessible Chief Minister Odisha – and indeed any other state – has ever seen; his son is easily among the most inaccessible. Biju Babu put the bureaucrats in their place, even calling upon the people to beat up errant/corrupt babus; his son has outsourced the entire state administration – and even the party – to bureaucrats. Biju Babu never cared for security, even cycling his way to the secretariat; his son is obsessed with security, with over 100 security personnel engaged in the job at any given moment and a two dozen long cavalcade preceding and following him every time he moves out of his fortress. Biju Babu was magnanimous and forgave easily; his son neither forgets nor forgives. Biju Babu banned country liquor; his son has gone out of his way to promote liquor, both country and ‘phoren’. Biju Babu reserved 33% of seats in panchayti raj institutions (PRIs); his son has merely proposed 33% reservation for women in legislatures, knowing fully well that it is not within his powers to do it even in his own state!

One could go on and on, but is it really necessary to make the point? Naveen Babu will surely go down in history as one of the most successful politicians in India; someone who has never lost an election or has been in the Opposition. But in this writer’s book, he can never claim to be the inheritor of Biju Babu’s political legacy.

(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)