Op-Ed: Patkura Marks A New Low In Odisha Politics

By now, everyone knows Indian politics is a cynical, no-holds-barred game where there is no place for any human emotions or sensibilities. Conspiracy, intrigue and back-stabbing are the rules of this ruthless game. But even by these accepted standards of politics, what has just happened in respect of the Patkura Assembly constituency last week certainly marks a new low.

Naveen Patnaik’s decision to nominate the seriously ailing Bed Prakash Agrawala defied logic in the first place. Coming as it did on the heels of the benching of a host of 70+ leaders like Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik (Berhampur), Jugal Kishore Patnaik (Bhadrak), V Sugnan Kumari Deo (Kabisuryanagar) and Jogendra Behera (Loisingha), the insistence on having an 82-year old, admitted to the ICU for weeks, as the party candidate predictably raised a lot of eyebrows. The seriousness of his ailment was obvious from the fact that he could not even come to collect his ticket for nearly a week. More surprise followed when the BJD supremo stood firm on his decision and rejected the plea by Agrawala’s wife and son for the ticket to be given to someone else in the family. It was not an undue request by any means. In fact, nominating someone from the family in place of Agrawala made more sense than it did in the case of the sons of Pravat Tripathy (Banki) and Pravat Biswal (Cuttack-Choudwar).

The sheer illogicality of the decision was there for the whole world to see on the day the veteran leader went to file his nomination. He was literally gasping and couldn’t utter a word when the TV crews caught up with him. Reports from Kendrapara suggest he could not even reach the returning officer’s room; instead, the returning officer had to come and collect his signed papers. Who knows, the exhausting trip to Kendrapara trip could well have hastened his death!

The sequence of events bears out the charge of Bijoy Mohapatra, the BJD supremo’s original bête noire (Jay Panda being the new one) and the BJP candidate in Patkura, about a ‘conspiracy’ at work. The cynical calculation apparently was that the election in Patkura would be countermanded if Agrawala died before voting day, foiling Mohapatra’s last-ditch effort to enter the Assembly. The strategists perhaps thought the election would be held well after the new government is sworn in. But the Election Commission played spoilsport by rescheduling the polls for May 19 along with the last phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

The ingenuity of the plan takes one’s breath away. The sitting MLA from Patkura breathed his last, conveniently for the party chief, on April 20, just nine days before Patkura was to go to polls! Though the ruling party is yet to name its new candidate for the polls rescheduled polls on May 19, it is a foregone conclusion that it will be Sanjay Agrawala, the son of the deceased leader who had been rebuffed earlier. What he told the media when asked about it leaves no room for doubt that he has indeed received an assurance of the ticket for Patkura. The idea clearly is to cash in on the sympathy wave that is bound to be there for the veteran leader who had been an integral part of Kendrapara politics for so long.

Bijoy Mohapatra, of course, is no stranger to such below-the-belt tactic by Naveen, having suffered at his hands in the 2000 Assembly elections when his ticket was cancelled and given to Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak at the last minute leaving no time for him to file a fresh nomination even as an independent. But it pales in comparison with what happened this time because at stake was the precious life of a seasoned leader who was made a pawn in the cynical game of politics.

That the outwardly polite, courteous and well-mannered Naveen Patnaik hides a ruthless streak in him is well known. But it is a surprise that far from being hated for such low trickery, he has actually been feted by the people for it. Kendrapara is a BJD bastion and he could have pulled out all stops to ensure Mohapatra’s defeat through legitimate political mobilization – as he did in the last two elections. But such is his hatred for the former minister that he would not stop at anything to ‘fix’ him.

On his part, Mohapatra must be hoping that the politically conscious voters would see through the lowly conspiracy against him and defeat it. If he manages to do the unthinkable, Patkura – and by implication Kendrapara – has the potential to alter the course of politics in the state.

(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)