Op-Ed: Why it is premature to write off Bijoy Mohapatra now

By Sandeep Sahu

After his loss to BJD candidate Sabitri Agrawala in Patkura, most political observers are busy writing the political obituary of Bijoy Mohapatra. On the face of it, such a view is unexceptionable. At 68, the erstwhile Janata Parivar stalwart is not exactly a spring chicken. “He would be 73 by the time the next elections are due and thus too old to make a fresh beginning in his chequered political career” goes the popular wisdom. More importantly, it is obvious to anyone who has observed his relationship with and equation in the BJP over the years that he does not figure very prominently in the party’s scheme of things. Hence, it is difficult to see him bouncing back to political relevance anytime soon.

But then, Bijoy has proved doomsday prophets wrong so many times in the past that it would be a mistake to write him off even after the loss in Patkura. After all, he has managed to stay politically relevant for nearly two decades even without being a minister, MP or MLA. Despite being sidelined in the BJP – and without holding any post in it – he still remains the only leader who can call a press conference in his individual capacity at short notice and still have the crème de la crème of Odisha media lining up at his doors. Like his mentor Biju Patnaik, his importance comes not from the post he holds but from his political persona.

Consider the odds he was up against in Patkura. In the absence of hard, irrefutable proof, let us ignore the allegations of extensive use of money power and misuse of official machinery – though there is enough anecdotal evidence available to show this indeed was the case. But it is no secret that BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik fresh from his record fifth consecutive win in the Assembly election, had pulled out all stops to make sure his bête noire did not enter the Assembly. The entire ruling party appeared to have shifted base to Patkura in the days leading up to the election, leading to a piquant situation in the Assembly where the 112-strong BJD was frequently outnumbered by the Opposition in the House during its ongoing monsoon session. The Chief Minister himself campaigned extensively for Mrs. Agrawala. Not that any of it was wrong or unethical. But together, they proved what was all too obvious: BJD leaders and cadres were under strict instructions to ensure there was no slip up. As if all this was not bad enough, Mohapatra did not have the unstinted and unqualified support of everyone in his own party either. There has to be a reason repeated assertions by party leaders to the contrary have failed to dispel the impression that the BJP did not lend its full weight behind the beleaguered leader. If Bijoy still managed to poll over 78, 000 votes, it speaks volumes about his personal standing with the electorate.

There was a possibility that his standing in the BJP would have gone up a notch or two higher had he won. But it does not follow that he is finished politically after the loss. Those who are looking at the 2024 elections are committing the mistake of looking too far ahead to draw their conclusion. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics (and five years an eternity, one may add!). A lot can happen in these five years. Who, for instance, could have foreseen in April, 2014 that the Congress would implode, both nationally and in the state, the way it has in the last five years? Or, for that matter, that the RJD, which was the dominant party in the coalition government with JD (U) in Bihar just two years ago, would draw a blank in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019?

As for the age factor, why should Bijoy be written off when his nemesis Naveen Patnaik is still going strong at 74? Didn’t M Karunanidhi lord over his party and the government well into his nineties?

The real problem for Bijoy is that having been unceremoniously shown the door by the man he helped install as the head of the party, he does not have a party of his choice. It is obvious to anyone who has followed his equation with the BJP that they are not ‘made for each other’. With the BJP and BJD coming closer after the bitter elections, the perennial Naveen-baiter may find himself even more of an outcaste in the party than he is now. Joining the Congress is clearly out of question given his strong anti-Congress origins in politics. In any case, a fiercely ambitious leader would find it hard to survive and prosper in a high command driven party. Even if he were to swallow his anti-Congressism for the sake of political survival, the Congress is not exactly an alluring proposition for him in its current state of decay. He has tried his hand at forming a party of his own and failed. There is thus very little option for him except to keep ploughing his lonely furrow in the BJP and bide his time for the tide to turn in his favour.

Who knows, he might come right back into political reckoning in the post-Naveen scenario!

(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.)