Op-Ed: Should We Take Surya Patro’s ‘Naveen for PM’ Chant Seriously?

How seriously should we take senior BJD leader Surya Narayan Patro’s “Naveen for PM” call? Did he speak out of turn? Or did he have the sanction of the party supremo before going public with it? Having watched how things work in the ruling party since its inception, this columnist would tend to go with the latter view. In a party like the BJD where veteran leaders like Prafulla Ghadai and Damodar Rout have been summarily expelled from the party for shooting their mouth off, it is highly unlikely that someone would throw Naveen Patnaik’s hat into the ring without his consent – least of all someone like Patro, who in the past has invited scorn for describing himself as his supremo’s ‘servant’!

Once we accept that Patro had the supremo’s nod, the question that inevitably follows is: what has changed? Remember Naveen has made it repeatedly and abundantly clear – the last time he did so was as recently as during the campaign last month – that he has ‘no national ambitions’. “I am happy serving my four and a half crore Odia people” has been his stock reply every time he has been asked the question and it was no different the last time either.

So, what indeed has changed in less than a month? There are three possible answers to this question. The first of these is this: looking at the uncertainty over the formation of the next government at the Centre, Naveen has suddenly developed a ‘national ambition’ and has decided to throw his hat into the ring. Since expressing this new-found ‘ambition’ himself would have been embarrassing for him considering his utterances on the topic in the past, he got a senior – and, more importantly, loyal – leader to do the job. The calculation could be that the post-May 23 scenario would be somewhat like it was in 1996 when HD Deve Gowda became the Prime Minister simply because he had brought the largest number of MPs from a single state (Karnataka-15) for the non-Congress party that had the largest number of seats in Parliament: Janata Dal (43). Of course, it could also be just a way of testing the waters and see how other parties respond to the idea.

The other possible reason for this sudden development could be the BJD is not really keen to throw its hat into the ring but is just raising the stakes for whoever comes shopping for its support. Raise the stakes, strike a hard bargain and get the best for the state, the party and its leader – this could well be the BJD’s game plan for the moment.

The third explanation for Patro saying what he said (rather uncharitable to him) is he has hit upon this bright idea of pushing his supremo ‘upstairs’ so that the he, as the most loyal and senior most leader in the party after the exit of Damdar Rout, could manoeuvre his way on to the chair he vacates!

This writer would go with the second reason for this sudden ‘Naveen for PM’ chant. The third looks too far-fetched and the first too uncharacteristic of Naveen to merit any serious consideration. While he has been an unchallenged leader in Odisha since the day he stepped into politics, no one knows it better than Naveen that his demeanour, style and temperament will not suit the demands of running a squabbling coalition of two dozen or more parties at the national level. Knowing that the support of even a dozen MPs could make or mar the chances of forming the government for the major coalitions in what is widely expected to be a hung Parliament, the BJD boss is merely raising the stakes in preparation for striking a hard bargain.

This author believes more important than his ‘Naveen for PM’ chant is the other part of Patro’s statement. While making a case for Naveen to be made Prime Minister – supposedly because the people of India and Odisha wanted him to see as such! – the senior leader added a significant rider; ‘but not with Congress support because the party has a history of pulling the rug after a few months’. There are two ways to look at the rider. One, it could be a signal that the BJD would have no truck with the Congress – or even that it does not think the party would be in a position to make a serious bid for power at the Centre. Two, it was an indication to the Congress that it has to outbid the BJP/NDA, which has already started efforts to prove that it would offer the ‘best deal’ to Odisha by announcing a handsome interim package for the restoration work post-Cyclone ‘Fani’.

At the moment, the BJP and BJD, which were swearing at each other only weeks ago, certainly seem to be coming closer to each other. But it would be a mistake to assume things are going to stay this way for long. We shall have to wait till May 23 and see how the numbers stack up to know whose ‘deal’ Naveen will finally decide to accept.

(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.)