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Dissension rears its ugly head in Odisha ruling party


Reported by Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar, July 29:

With as many as 117 seats in the Assembly and 27 in Parliament, including 20 in the Lok Sabha, one would imagine the ruling party in Odisha would have a smooth sailing, at least for the first few months after its stunning electoral victory in the April polls

Under Siege?
Under Siege?

But that is not quite the way things have panned out as is evident from the statement made by Agriculture Minister Pradip Maharathy yesterday.

Maharathy took everyone by surprise when he alleged that some party leaders, in an effort to feather their own nests, have hatched a ‘conspiracy’ against BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik.

“I will soon unmask those who are hatching conspiracy against Naveen Patnaik,” said Maharathy without naming any of the alleged conspirators.

For good measure, the irrepressible Pipli strongman added an altogether new dimension to the whole question by openly declaring that he would fully support Arun Patnaik, the Chief Minister’s nephew, in case the latter decides to rope him into the party.

The name of Arun, son of Naveen’s elder brother Prem Patnaik, had been doing the rounds as a possible successor to the BJD supremo in the run up to the polls when speculation about Naveen’s health was at fever pitch.

But the invoking of Arun’s name at this stage has set the cat among the pigeons. Since all speculation about Arun’s baptism had subsided in the wake of the elections, Maharathy’s invocation of the junior Patnaik at this juncture is being widely seen as a move by the party boss to ‘test the waters’.

Pradeep Maharathy, Agriculture Minister
Pradeep Maharathy, Agriculture Minister

Though the Agriculture minister to known to shoot his mouth off every now and then, very few are ready to accept that it was an off the cuff remark.

Observers say this could also be a ploy to put the dissidents in their place by making them realise that they cannot take Naveen for granted.

Even before Maharathy’s statement yesterday, there have been tell tale signs that dissidence within the ruling party is gathering steam. In a development that is being seen as a coming together of disgruntled elements within the party, 25 young MLAs of the party recently met at Cuttack. Though the group has described it as a ‘get together’, observers see more to it than meets the eye.

“Even though we got 117 seats in Assembly, the party does not feel united. There are several leaders, including those who did not get ministerial berths or are not satisfied with their portfolios, who are constantly putting the government in trouble by intervening in various issues. Instead of acting as a shield, they are behaving like opposition members,” said a party MLA wishing not to be named.

Dr Damodar Rout
Dr Damodar Rout

There have been other signs of dissension within the party as well. BJD vice president and Cooperation Minister Damodar Rout mocked the clarification of another BJD vice-president and Rajya Sabha MP Kalpataru Das about his family availing at least three houses under the discretionary quota from the Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA). Senior leader Maheswar Mohanty supported Rout.

After Minister Sanjay Dasburma’s name was found in the list of persons and companies involved in illegal apartment construction in the state capital, the Civil Supply and Consumer Welfare Minister took on Housing and Urban Development Minister Pushpendra Singhdeo, who declared his name as one of the persons who violated the BDA rules.

However, Rout said that there is no factionalism within the party. “There is only one power centre in the party and that is Naveen Patnaik. Everyone is bound to obey his order. If anyone is talking of conspiracy, it is a superficial statement. I don’t believe in any rumour,” said Rout.

But the senior minister’s assertion has not stopped tongues from wagging. Far too many BJD leaders are working at cross purposes to convince the outsider that all is honky dory in the ruling party.