Op-Ed: Which Way Will Naveen Go After May 23?

The wooing of Naveen Patnaik has begun in right earnest. With the results of the general elections set to come on May 23, every contender for power at the Centre is understandably keen to have the Odisha Chief Minister on its side to bolster its numbers in the bid for power.

As expected, the BJP was first off the blocks and has gone the extra mile to please the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo. Given the abuse and name calling that marked the utterances of the two sides during the campaign last month, it was amusing to see the bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during the former’s visit for an aerial survey of the areas devastated by Cyclone Fani on May 6. Not only did the Prime Minister announce an interim package of Rs 1000 crore for restoration and promised all help in terms of men and material, he also handed out handsome praise to the Odisha CM for evacuation of nearly 14 lakh people ahead of the cyclone, thus minimizing the casualty. It was hard to believe that it was the same man who, in a meeting at Kendrapara just three weeks ago, had shown the BJD boss the door saying; “Naveen Babu. Aap jaa rahe ho. Aapka jaana tay hai.”

And now BJP President Amit Shah, who repeatedly termed Naveen Patnaik as a ‘burnt transformer’ and called for ‘uprooting’ his government during the campaign, has gone one step further painting the same ‘Naveen Babu’ as a paragon of non-violence while having a go at Mamata Banerjee for the violence unleashed by TMC cadres in West Bengal. The irony was hard to miss. During the campaign, both Shah and Modi had attacked the BJD for unleashing a reign of terror after three BJP workers were killed in various parts of the state!

Such U turns, however, are nothing new in politics. In any case, the BJP has all the reasons to woo Naveen as it knows the situation this time is vastly different from what it was in 2014. But what has surprised the observers is the way Naveen has responded to the overtures. The man who bitterly complained that “Phailin re asile nahin, Hudhud re asile nahin, Titli re asile nahin, Ebe nirbachan re asichanti” (‘They did not come during Phailin, Huhhud or Titli, but have now come for elections”) throughout the campaign actually praised the same BJP-led Modi government at the Centre for extending its helping hand in rescue, relief and restoration work.

Observers see in Naveen’s praise an indication of which way he could lean after the results. But knowing him, it would be a mistake to see read much meaning into such gestures. Consummate practitioner of realpolitik that he is, the BJD supremo can be trusted to keep everyone guessing and hold his cards close to his chest till he has sized up the post-result scenario. Amid talk of Naveen veering towards the BJP-NDA, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has invited him for a meeting on May 23. The BJD president has also reportedly met senior Congress leader and good friend Kamal Nath during his recent visit to New Delhi. Obviously, they would not have talked about the weather in the national capital.

The fact that Naveen has kept channels of communication open with both the national parties suggests that like the rest of the nation, he too is not sure which side would have the numbers to stake claim for the formation of the next government. But it could also be his way of telling both the suitors that neither side should take his support for granted.

So far, all we have to base our conjecture on which way he would swing post-results what he had said on the subject during electioneering. “The BJD will support whichever side offers Odisha offers the best deal,” Naveen had told multiple TV channels during the campaign.

The statement may have come as a dampener for those who have painted Naveen as the great bulwark against the BJP, who has staved off the onslaught of the saffron party in Odisha. But then Naveen has never had any ideological hang-ups. His decisions have always been guided by the hard political realities and enlightened self-interest. Thus, he could go with either side, depending on which side has the numbers on May 23.

(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.)