Op-Ed: ‘Panic’ written all over third list of BJD candidates

“Discretion is the better part of valour.” That is the lesson BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik appears to have learnt from the utter mayhem that followed the announcement of the first list of candidates for nine Lok Sabha and 54 Assembly constituencies on March 18, if the third list of candidates for nine Lok Sabha and 36 Assembly constituencies released on Wednesday evening is anything to go by.

While the pattern set in the first list remains more or less the same in respect of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, it is in the list of candidates for the Assembly elections that the impact of this realization can be seen clearly. For the record, as many as 27 of the 54 Assembly seats (50%) in the first round had seen new faces, including sitting 14 MLAs who had been summarily axed. In sharp contrast, there are just nine new names in the list of 36 Assembly candidates announced yesterday while all the usual suspects have found a place in the list.

Closer scrutiny of the list of nine ‘new’ faces reveals that at least three of them are not all that ‘new’ after all. These three have merely replaced their fathers, who were sitting MLAs. Thus, Ddebi Prasanna Tripathy has replaced his father Pravat Tripathy in Banki, Souvik Biswal has been named in place of his father Pravat Biswal and Bishnubrata Routray in place of Bijayshree Routray in Basudevpur. While the senior Routray had opted out of the election on his own, the replacement of Tripathy and Biswal was in a way forced on Naveen because of their involvement in the chit fund scam. But the fact that their sons were nominated in their place despite opposition from party cadres suggests Naveen has gone the extra mile to keep the two tainted leaders on his side of the fence. Significantly, no such consideration was shown to Mayurbhanj MP Ramachandra Hansda.

Nor did the taint of the chit fund scam prevent the party supremo from re-nominating the likes of Rabindra Jena, who has been interrogated by the CBI in connection with the chit fund scam, and Messrs Arun Sahu, Sanjay Dasburma and Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak. The axe apparently has fallen only on those who have served time in jail. And even among the three who were imprisoned, only Hansda has really missed out. The other two, while staying away themselves, managed to wrest tickets for their sons. Naveen obviously believes that the people can’t see through this charade and even if they do, they would hardly care!

A closer look at those who have genuinely missed out on a ticket shows the party supremo has chosen his targets after careful thought. The axe has invariably fallen on those least likely to rebel. At 78, Arjun Sethi, the eight-time MP from Bhadrak, is at the autumn of his career while any potential trouble from five-time MP from Bhubaneswar Prasanna Patsani has been forestalled with the promise to send him to the Rajya Sabha. There is talk of Nagendra Pradhan being similarly assuaged by fielding his wife from Dhenkanal. Rita Tarai would probably remain obliged to Naveen for the rest of her life for the one term she served as MP while hoping that she would be compensated in some way in the future. Dr Kulamani Samal (Jagatsinghpur) is not exactly the kind of person likely to raise the banner of revolt.

The axing of the six sitting MLAs – Rabinarayan Mohapatra (Ranpur), Saroj Samal (Dhenkanal), Bedabyasa Naik (Telkoi), Hrushikesh Naik (Patna), Abhiram Naik (Keonjhar) and Bijay Kumar Nayak (Karanjia) – appears to have been influenced by the same consideration. The targets are those who would take the path of least resistance. In any case, three Rajya Sabha seats are likely to fall vacant if the current incumbents – Achyuta Samanta, Prasanna Acharya (both of whom have been fielded in the Lok Sabha election) and Pratap Keshari Deb, who has been named from the Aul Assembly seat – go on to win. These vacancies can then be dangled before those who have lost out on the ticket sweepstakes to keep them in the fold.

The first signs that Naveen is beginning to panic after the virtual exodus that saw five sitting MLAs and several other ex MLAs and ticket aspirants quitting the party came when he took an eternity to name the candidates for nine Assembly seats going to the polls in the first two phases. The candidates for two of them – Bolangir and Birmitrapaur – were, in fact, named the day before nominations were to close! This was the clearest possible indication that he had a rethink on his initial plans to replace up to 50% of sitting MLAs after witnessing the vociferous reaction to the omissions in the first list of 54.

One possible reason for very few changes in the list released on Wednesday, of course, could be that many of these 36 seats are in the BJD bastion of coastal Odisha. Naveen obviously realized that large scale changes of the kind seen in the first list could be too hot to handle and backed off in time.

Naveen, who went for the jugular and served all the punches in the first round, appears to have merely played for points in the third!

(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)