Op-Ed: Patnaik’s Politics of Expediency

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s reported statement to a national TV channel that his party would support the political combination at the Centre that can best safeguard Odisha’s interests is an indication that he wants to keep his options open.

This election, unlike the past one, is going to be difficult for him. As far as Lok Sabha seats are concerned, the BJP seems poised to make major gains. In the event of BJP significantly improving its Lok Sabha tally in the state, Patnaik may not find himself in a position to dictate terms. Hence, he is already trying to position himself in a manner to be able to extract the most out of whichever combination ( at the moment NDA seems more likely than UPA) comes to power at the Centre.

Patnaik, in any case, has been conducting his politics quite flexibly. Despite his avowed policy of maintaining equidistance from Congress and the BJP, he has been repeatedly seen siding with the saffron party in the past. When the BJP was in dire need of support in the Rajya Sabha to get the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill passed a few years ago, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) came to its rescue.

In the 2017 presidential polls, the BJD had supported NDA candidate, Ram Nath Kovind and had later thrown its weight behind Harivansh, the combine’s candidate for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson. Patnaik’s party had also staged a convenient walk out in the parliament during the no-trust vote against Modi government last July.

Though BJD, as and when it suits it, has also been staging agitations against the Modi-ruled Centre and criticizing the BJP it realizes the importance of keeping a channel of communication open with that party and its top leaders. For one thing a hostile Centre could only damage the interests of the state and the BJD in particular. For another the BJD can ill-afford to align with the Congress as the party stands on the foundation of anti-Congressism.

Despite its ideological differences with the BJP, the BJD ran a coalition government with the party in the state for more than nine years. The partners fought bitterly but the coalition survived many tests. Had Kandhamal riots not forced Patnaik to change his tactics the combine would have ruled the state for a longer time.

Having dealt with the BJP in the past, Patnaik would find it easier to do business with the saffron party if it comes to power at the Centre again, a possibility being widely discussed now. So when the chief minister says his party would support the combination that can best safeguard the interests of Odisha he seems to have BJP-led NDA in mind more than UPA whose chances of snatching power from Modi appear remote.

Politics, as they say, is the art of the possible and Odisha chief minister has emerged as the master of that art. He is an artist when it comes to changing his stand according to the situation and yet justifying it. His latest statement is only proof of that.

(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)