Op-Ed: Sleeping With The Frenemy

The Congress is sleeping with the BJD, says BJP. No, it’s BJP that is sleeping with the BJD, alleges Congress. And both sides cite credible ‘evidence’ to prove their case. The BJP points to the statement by senior Congress leaders Bhakta Charan Das and Sarat Rout that the party is not averse to joining hands with the BJD to keep the BJP at bay to back its charge. In his press conference this morning, Union Tribal Affairs minister Jual Oram also accused newly elected Rajya Sabha MP Soumya Ranjan Patnaik of playing the role of a ‘bridge’ between BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik and PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik, besides pointing to the wholesale transfer of Congress votes that ensured a thumping victory for BJD candidate Rita Sahu in the Bijepur by-election.

On his part, Niranjan Patnaik attributed Naveen’s no show in Bengaluru for the swearing in of HD Kumaraswamy on Wednesday to a secret understanding between the BJD and the BJP. [Mercifully, no one has accused the BJP and the Congress of sleeping with each other, at least not yet, though the voting pattern in the Panchayat elections last year did indicate some understanding between the two sworn enemies at the ground level]

So who really is sleeping with whom? The truth is: no one. Everyone is just busy covering his flanks to be in the best possible position to sleep with whoever will offer the best deal after the next elections. It’s courtship time now; the sleeping business would have to wait till after the election. That is because everyone knows an open declaration of tying up with another party doesn’t make political sense at this stage. Any pre electoral understanding between any two parties, if it takes place at all, would be a tactical and localised to ensure the best possible result for both sides rather than a pan Odisha affair. Each of the three major parties wants to maximise its gains to be in the best possible position to strike a hard bargain after the polls. The post poll scenario could thus throw up a surprise, but only in case of a fractured mandate like the one in Karnataka recently.

Throughout the election campaign, it appeared that the only possible post poll alliance was between the BJP and the JD (S). The utterances from the two sides gave the impression that the differences between the Congress and the JD (S) were too deep rooted for the two to come together after the polls. And yet, when push came to shove, the JD (S) chose to go with the Congress rather than the BJP. Something similar happening after the polls cannot be ruled out in Odisha in case of a fractured mandate.

Who will the BJD go with in case it needs the support of others to form the government? My assessment is it could go with either of the two national parties. While ranting against the alleged anti-Odisha stand of the BJP on various issues, including the Mahanadi water dispute with Chhattisgarh, the BJD boss has been at pains not to do anything that may pit it against the BJP and Narendra Modi. The ruling party’s decision to skip the swearing in of Kumaraswamy is of a piece with this desire not to be seen on the wrong side of the saffron party. Naveen’s decision to stay away from confabulations for a Federal Front initiated by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao was also prompted by the same desire to keep his post election options open. Notably, the BJD has backed the Modi government on major policy decisions like demonetisaion and GST in the past.

At the same time, Naveen has excellent personal relationship with the Congress high command, which ensured smooth sailing for his government for a decade from 2004 to 2014 during which the UPA was in power. Contrary to what Jual would have us believe, Naveen doesn’t need the services of Soumya Ranjan Patnaik to build bridges with the Congress. The bridge has been built long back and can be used anytime there is a need.

Naveen’s oft-repeated rhetoric of  ‘equi-distance from both BJP and Congress’, I dare say, is a clever ploy to keep his options open to go with either side should the need arise.

All these options, however, would become irrelevant if the BJD gets an absolute majority in the next elections as expected. In such a scenario, both the BJP and the Congress would be eyeing the overt or covert support of the BJD MPs for  government formation at the Centre if the election throws up a fractured mandate.

(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.)

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