Is BJD staring at a stormy weather ahead?

By A K Sahoo

Bhubaneswar, June 7: The resignation of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Baijayant Panda from the primary membership of the party continues to dominate the discussion in political circles of Odisha.

With Mr Panda’s resignation, almost 90 per cent of the founder members of the regional outfit have now been shunted out of the organization.

Many of them the ousted members have lost their political eminence while a few others still struggling to remain in the reckoning.

Only a couple of founder members – A U Singhdeo and Prasanna Acharya – are now left in the party that was founded in 1997 to oust the Congress from power in the state.

The 54-year-old Baijayant, son of a noted industrialist Dr Bansidhar Panda, was BJD’s progressive face. Very successfully, he promoted the party and its leader Naveen Patnaik’s image both in the state and Delhi.

His entry into active politics began almost in 1997 when the erstwhile Janata Dal in Odisha was split and BJD was formed as a regional outfit to remove Congress out of power from the state.

Baijayant always served as party’s crisis manager both in Odisha and Delhi.

On the eve of 2000 general and assembly elections, the BJD almost faced a vertical split when in a sudden and surprising move party chief Naveen Patnaik expelled Bijoy Mohapatra, the key architect and one of the prominent founder members of the party. Mr Panda, through his family owned OTV, the state’s leading Odia news channel, stood rock solid behind him.

In 2002 when the BJD parliamentary party was almost on the verge of split, he played a crucial role to forge unity among the party’s lawmakers.

When retired bureaucrat Pyarimohan Mohapatra entered into the state’s political scene around 2000 and actively managed the BJD party affairs; many more founder members like Dilip Ray, Ramakrushna Patnaik and Braja Kishore Tripathy were expelled. Later, between 2000 and 2014 – a number of senior ministers Nalini Kanata Mohanty, Kamala Das, Prashant Nanda, Prafulla Chandra Ghadai were unceremoniously dropped, each time creating a lot commotion. There were situations when the very existence of the party was in doubt. However, Baijayant, as a true loyalist, was always there with the party and CM Naveen Patnaik through thick and thin.

Troubles started for Baijayant when rumours flew thick and fast in BJD party circles that he was eyeing for the post of Chief Ministership. Party president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik gradually alienated from party affairs.

In his Lok Sabha constituency, the BJD MLAs did not share dais with him. At many places drinking water projects, sports stadium and other infrastructure assets foundations of which were laid by him, were not allowed to be inaugurated by him. Instead, local BJD leaders inaugurated those projects, ostensibly to humiliate him in the public.

At some places, Mr Panda was hurled stones and eggs. His police complaints against such attacks were not promptly investigated into. Nor, the culprits were booked under appropriate sections of the Indian Penal Code.

As Baijayant was sidelined in the party,”’ his family owned company Indian Metal and Ferro Alloys Limited (IMFA), chrome ore mines at Sukinda and other ventures faced allegedly “orchestrated” harassments by “so-called” local people.

Though the lawmaker tolerated all “humiliations,” Mr Panda with all humility did not react too much nor did he revolt against the party’s leadership, except bringing to his notice the torture and torments he was subjected to.

Deeply hurt by the CM Naveen Patnaik not turning up to pay his last respect to his father Bansidhar Padna who passed away on May 22, Baijayant resigned from BJD on May 28.

Bansidhar Panda, a noted scientist who was a great friend of Biju Patnaik, father of Naveen Patnaik.

Bansidhar and Biju Patnaik shared a rare bond of friendship and both of them had made significant contribution to the industrial revolutions in the state.

Bansidhar had also stood by Biju Patnaik during his major crisis.

Baijayant’s resignation has fuelled many speculations about the future course of the BJD. Many analysts are of the view that the party might face a virtual revolt before the 2019 polls as he has a very sizeable number of followers among the BJD’s 118 MLAs.

A mass leader as he is, the suave politician is highly popular among people not only in his home constituency Kendrapara but across the state for his simple and down-to-earth behaviour.  Grapevine has it that he might join the BJP because of his close proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and two Union ministers from Odisha – Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram.

Analysts maintain that if the BJP manages to woo Baijayant to its side, the trouble for BJD will increase manifold. The regional party which has been ruling the state for over 18 years now faces the daunting challenges of accommodating rising number of ticket aspirants for the coming 2019 assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Each of the 147 assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies has four to five BJD ticket aspirants. In case Baijayant prefers to remain non-aligned, he might extend his support to the BJD leaders turning rebels during elections for not getting party tickets to contest polls. And, this would highly impact the BJD’s poll prospects, contend the analysts.

Veteran BJP leader and Union minister Jual Oram has already said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah would be happy to welcome Mr Panda into the party fold.

“Baijayant Panda is an acclaimed parliamentarian and everybody loves him Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and our party president Amit Shah like him and they would love to welcome him in BJP he wants to join the party,” said Mr Oram.


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