NEWSLETTER: Odisha CM Patnaik loses two stalwarts; Tathagata Satpathy quits active politics, Baijayant Jay Panda joins BJP


BHUBANESWAR: Two political developments in Odisha in recent days may have an adverse bearing on the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and its unchallenged leader for years, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. One is the exit from active politics by senior party leader and long-time parliamentarian Thathagata Satpathy, who was the chief whip of the BJP in the outgoing Lok Sabha. The other development is the formal entry of BJD MP, Bijayant Jay Panda who joined the BJP on Monday.

Populism pays… CM  Naveen Patnaik

Odisha is a state where economic development is moderate despite uninterrupted rule by Naveen Patnaik and his BJD for the past 19 years. The 72-year-old Naveen Patnaik is son of legendary leader Biju Patnaik who helped industrialise the state in the post-Independence years. The son’s attempts at industrialization matching with the modern times did not succeed much due to his failure to beat back activism of various kinds in the name of Adivasis by Maoists, and also by environmentalists. Posco, billed as the largest FDI proposal, for instance.

The state is now set to face assembly polls alongside the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Naveen Patnaik, who emerged as a darling of the ordinary  masses in the state by virtue of his populist schemes like one-rupee rice for the BPL families, followed by a healthcare scheme for the poor, remained unbeatable in the past four general elections even as he shook off his party’s ties with the BJP formed in year 2000. He, thereafter, maintained an equi-distance approach with the Congress and the BJP, and refused to oblige persuasions from key Opposition figures and regional leaders to side with them in an anti-BJP national alliance of regional parties. He welcomed them into his office for discussions, now and then, but turned his back on them.

Patnaik is a man of few words, and does not communicate much with the masses. Educated in Doon School with the likes of Kamal Nath, he communicates mostly in English in the official parlours, and reads out speeches in Odiya at public meetings.

Gita Mehta

Naveen Patnaik has an image of being clean, not corrupt, but there are also those who say his brother settled in Delhi, a high-flying businessman, may be facilitating many government deals. Patnaik’s sister, Gita Mehta, is a popular novelist and settled abroad. Gita had recently declined to accept the Padma Shri honour conferred on her by the Union Government, saying the timing of the award could raise questions as elections are approaching. 

Naveen Patnaik maintains a bachelor status for years now. His health also might not be in good form.

The two veterans Patnaik lost in the run-up to the Polls 2019 are influential figures in their own right. Tathagata Satpathy, son of another popular chief minister Nandini Satpathy, has been repeatedly elected to the Lok Sabha for the past four terms on BJD ticket from Dhenkanal LS constituency, a region that is the pocket burough for the Satpathy clan for ages. The constituency falls in a mining belt. An able parliamentarian and powerful speaker in the Lok Sabha, his views are watched with considerable interest. So is Bijayant Panda, who is a commentator on national politics as also foreign affairs. Satpathy is uncomfortable with both the BJP and the Congress.

Changing colour.. Bijayant Jay Panda

The influence of both in the state has also to do also with their active media involvements. Satpathy runs the highly respected Dharitri, a daily in Odiya started at the time of his mother, and its new English daily, Orissa Post. Bijayant Panda is also having his own media establishments, though they are less popular. He too hails from an influential political family.

Satpathy made it clear this week that he now plans to concentrate more on journalism, apparently to work full-time for the dailies and possibly to start new media ventures too. His wife, Adyasha Satpathy, handled management and editorial responsibilities, more so during times when Parliament was in session.

With the BJD losing two stalwarts in the electoral arena this time, the CM will have his popularity to bank on to retain power. The BJP is making a serious bid to capture Odisha through the local arms of two Union ministers — Dharmendra Pradhan who handles Petroleum ministry and Jual Oram who heads tribal affairs. Pradhan’s appeal is to the middle and higher stratas of the society while Oram reaches out to the common masses. Baijayant Panda, who has his own aircraft to fly around, does not have much of a mass base. It remains to be seen how much the BJP benefits from his presence.

The Congress party is down and out in Odisha for many years now. Its revival is not easy, and not many pin any hopes on its electoral prospects. The central party leadership neglected the state for many years now. The BJP too has not been able to make much headway in the state if past elections at various levels are any indication. This time, there is also talk of Prime Minister Narendra Modi fighting the polls from one constituency in Odisha – an indication of the seriousness that the saffron party attaches to Odisha, a state where Hindu religious fervour is of a high order and Muslim presence minimal.  IHN-NN

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