Op-Ed: Will Dama Rout’s saffron gambit pay off?

As defections go, this one is certainly the mother of all defections. Dr. Damodar Rout, the self-proclaimed disciple of Biju Patnaik, lifelong socialist and trenchant critic of the BJP brand of politics till just a few weeks ago, has dived headlong into the ‘lotus’ pond in what can only be described as a desperate gambit to stay politically relevant. In a supreme irony, the man who inducted him to the party happened to be the man he has called all kinds of names in the past.

“Lotus does not bloom in saline water,” the 75-year old Dama Babu had replied in his characteristic, idiom-laced style when asked about the chances of the BJP in his area. Now the same man has said, without batting an eyelid, that he knows “how to make lotus bloom in saline water!”

Of course, eating his words is nothing new for the veteran Biju era leader. Having chosen to stick to the parent Janata Dal at the time of its split leading to the birth of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in 1997, the seven-time MLA had derisively described the breakaway faction as ‘genda dala’ (snail party), a reference to the ‘conch’ symbol of the BJD, only to line up before Naveen Patnaik later, tail firmly between legs.

He would hate to be reminded of it now that he has joined BJP. But not long ago, he had accused Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the man who welcomed him to the party on Thursday evening, of having locked up his father to wrest the party ticket for himself. “He is not good enough to win a panchyat election on his own,” he had said about the pre-eminent leader of the state BJP at the time. In joining the BJP, he has indirectly admitted that for all his impressive electoral victories in the past, he is not sure if he is good enough to win an Assembly election on his own.

Of course, ‘revenge’ against his former boss must have been a major motivation for him in joining the BJP, apart from winning his own seat. He must have realized that even if he had contested as an independent and won, it wouldn’t have mattered much.  He would have won a minor brownie point, for sure. But it would not have inflicted any serious damage to the man, who has turned from god to villain for him in a matter of months. To do that, he had to join a party or form one. After failing to give shape to his own party, there were only two options left for him; joining the BJP or the Congress. That he chose to go with the former suggests he reckons the BJP is a better bet right now.

A senior leader like him is perhaps justified in his pique at being unceremoniously shown the door by the BJD. But having been a minister in Naveen’s cabinet for so long, he should have known what to expect when he decided to take on his master’s alter ego – though he took care, as long as he was in the BJD, not to criticize his boss. In a party where unquestioning loyalty to the supremo is the litmus test everyone has to pass to stay in the fold, this was nothing short of blasphemy.  It was easy to see that he had become a liability and an embarrassment for the BJD with his constant tirade against the Chief Minister’s most trusted officer, fellow members of the cabinet and the government as a whole.

For the BJP though, the induction of Dama Rout is certainly a shot in the arm ahead of the coming election. Short of well known leaders, the saffron party needed someone like him to improve its chances in the politically crucial coastal Odisha. With Baijayant Panda already in its fold, the party now has at least two leaders who can mar the chances of the ruling party in what has been its bastion, even if only in a limited way. If Bijoy Mohapatra accepts the olive branch extended to him by BJP prabhari Arun Singh, it would be a huge boost for the party looking for a toehold in coastal Odisha.

The fact that Dama chose to join a party his idol abhorred all his life proves, if any proof was needed at all, that ideology, principles and beliefs are just political rhetoric that can be shortchanged as per convenience. Survival in the cut throat world of politics requires compromise at every step of the way no matter who you are.

It, however, remains to be seen if he can keep his unruly tongue, which has frequently landed him in trouble, firmly under check to survive and flourish in his new party.

(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)