Column: On The Horns Of A Dilemma

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Even as the state BJP gears up to take on the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal(BJD), which it aspires to replace as Odisha’s ruling party in 2024, it finds itself circumscribed by its central leadership’s approach towards the regional party.

With the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) still lacking a majority in the Rajya Sabha, it has been cultivating regional
satraps like Patnaik and Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has taken personal care to ensure that these leaders remain in good humour.

This has created a piquant situation for the BJP in states like Odisha where it is engaged in a fierce turf war with the ruling dispensations. The case of Odisha deserves special attention since the state is a key element of BJP’s Look East policy and even central leaders of the party keep repeating their resolve to form a government in the state in the next elections.

The tone for BJP’s campaign against BJD had been set by none else than Amit Shah, then president of the party, on the eve of the last election. Having set the state unit a target of winning over 120 assembly seats he had gone all out against Patnaik describing his government as a ‘ burnt transformer’ which ought to be thrown into the Bay of Bengal.

This had boosted the morale of state party leaders who felt convinced about the intentions of the central leadership to challenge Patnaik’s BJD with which BJP’s 11-year old alliance had collapsed in 2009 on the issue of seat adjustments. It was a bitter parting from which state BJP leaders are yet to recover.

However, much to the chagrin of state BJP brass the party lost the 2009 assembly polls in the state miserably and was reduced to a mere six states in the legislature. It’s performance improved only marginally in 2014 when it won 10 seats in the assembly. But the bitterness between the two parties kept growing and the war of words between them escalated on the eve of the last election.

While the results of 2019 election when it won eight Lok Sabha seats and 23 assembly seats and emerged as the main opposition party in the state must have warmed the cockles of state BJP leaders the developments that followed left them squirming with embarrassment. It must have been galling for them to see Prime Minister, Narendra Modi openly courting chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and heaping praise on him for his efficient handling of cyclone Fani.

Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik has reciprocated with his party extending support to the NDA government inside parliament on crucial issues like dilution of article 370, triple talaq and most recently the Citizenship Amendment Act. The BJD even ensured the election of BJP candidate and former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav to the Rajya Sabha.

This led to the proliferation of theories about a quid pro quo between Patnaik and Modi’s NDA with political observers pointing to the generous assistance that the state received from the Centre for rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the wake of cyclone Fani. It was also granted the highest amount of CAMPA fund in the country last year.

Irrespective of whether allegations of a ‘deal’ between Patnaik and Modi government are correct or not what cannot be denied is that the growing bonhomie between the two sides has left the state BJP red-faced and facing a situation where it will find it extremely difficult to convince people about its willingness to challenge the BJD.

Equally worrying for the BJP is the fact that Congress, which it recently dislodged from the position of state’s main opposition party, is trying to take advantage of the situation by accusing the saffron party of having a tacit understanding with the BJD. This could seriously dent BJP’s credibility which finds itself on the horns of a dilemma in the state.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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)