Op-Ed: Yet another example of Patnaik’s politics of expediency

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s decision to support BJP candidate and former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav for the third Rajya Sabha seat from Odisha has taken many by surprise. After all, only about a month and a half ago the Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and BJP were at each other’s throats.

The long and bitter campaign for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls saw leaders on both sides railing against one another, occasionally engaging in virulent public spats. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and BJP chief, Amit Shah, who led the BJP campaign in the state, were themselves unsparing in their criticism of Patnaik. Shah went to the extent of comparing the Naveen government with a burnt transformer that deserved to be tossed into the Bay of Bengal.

But the bitterness generated by the campaign seems to have evaporated in the wake of announcement of results that gave Patnaik a brute majority in the state assembly yet again while the BJP had the consolation of improving its Lok Sabha tally which went up from one seat in 2014 to eight. The realisation has perhaps dawned on both sides that friendship would serve their mutual interests much better.

The signs of a thaw in the BJP-BJD relations were clearly visible when Modi visited Odisha in the wake of cyclone Fani for an aerial survey of the damage caused by the disastrous gale. While promising all possible help to the state from the Centre he also patted the chief minister on the back for the good work done by him in containing the scale of human casualties.

The two leaders then had an extremely cordial meeting in Delhi where they discussed a number of issues including special category state status for Odisha. Patnaik has responded positively by extending his support to the Centre’s proposal for one nation one election. He is perhaps the only chief minister of the country who has been so categorical in his approval of the idea.

Given this backdrop political observers appear justified in asking if BJP and BJD, who ruled the state in tandem from 2000 to 2009, are coming together again? Though it seems rather premature to draw such conclusions on the basis of a few developments there is no denying the growing bonhomie between Patnaik and the top BJP leadership.

What happens then to Patnaik’s professed policy of maintaining equidistance from BJP and Congress? Ask any BJD leader and he would repeat like a parrot that there has been no change in the party’s policy and the so-called closeness between BJP and BJD is more apparent than real. They insist that the regional party has taken a political position that best suits the interest of Odisha which happens to be its raison d’etre.

This is a very convenient way of explaining Patnaik’s politics of expediency. Despite a bitter divorce from the BJP in 2009 the chief minister of Odisha has been seen siding with the saffron party at the national level on several issues. It bailed out the NDA government when it was desperately scouting for allies to get the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Two years later it voted with the BJP to elect Ram Nath Kovind as the president of India. As if this was not enough the BJD staged a convenient walk out as the Modi government faced a no trust motion in the Lok Sabha last year. If this is not expediency what else is? But it suits Patnaik’s politics. So be prepared for more surprises to be sprung on you by the wily chief minister of Odisha.

(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.)