BLOG : MY TAKE
By Sandeep Sahu
Take a marquee brand. Add the instinct and innate cunning of a predator. Stir the concoction with dollops of sops. And what do you get ? The Naveen Patnaik patent for a fail-proof formula for winning elections.
No politician before him had quite perfected the art of winning elections like Naveen has. Even the wily JB Patnaik, who was the only Chief Minister before him to rule for three consecutive terms, bit the dust after two consecutive terms in the 1980s.
But the Naveen juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping altogether.
Exactly a month before the actual event, one can safely predict the headlines in the newspapers and television channels on the morning of January 9, 2014: “BJD sweeps BMC polls” or the Odia variant of the same.
Already, the talk in BJD circles is about bettering the record set by the man in whose name the party has been founded (and the state has been fooled for a good 13 years!). “Is baar pitaaji ka 1990 ka record todna hai,” party leaders are quoting Naveen Patnaik as telling everybody who is somebody in the BJD.
If these leaders are to be believed, the man is dead serious about it and has been working overtime towards this goal: securing more than the 123 seats that his father won in the epochal elections of 1990 in the next Assembly elections due in 2014.
While most of them couldn’t care less what exactly it is that has got their leader to set such a target for the party, they are willing to work towards that goal because of the second – and more important – part of what has become Naveen Patnaik’s takia kalaam these days: “Paise ki koi chinta nahin hai.” After all, why should the voters alone make merry when their party leader is willing to allow – even encourage – them to join in the fun?
Apparently, what got the BJD supremo to embark on such a mission was the jolt he received in the form of the revolt-that-wasn’t in May last year by his erstwhile mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who never tired of bragging about first engineering the split with the BJP and then ‘single-handedly’ plotting the victory of 103 BJD candidates in the 2009 elections.
There were many in his own party (maybe there are some even now) who believed in the myth so carefully built by the man who loved his ‘Chanakya’ tag. In targeting 123+ seats, he wants to prove to the naysayers in his own party and outside not just that Pyari was an impostor, but also that he has it in him to go one up on his father.
Given his record of uninterrupted electoral success since he burst into the scene at the beginning of the millennium, nobody in his rights senses can accuse him of braggadocio. And what makes such a seemingly unrealistic goal eminently achievable is the sorry state in which the Congress, the principal opposition party in the state, finds itself in.
During a conversation after the results of the urban elections in western Odisha had come in, a senior Congress leader cribbed about the use of money by the ruling party to win the elections.
“What else did you expect them to do? Not to spend money so that you win? He has all the money and there is little doubt that he would spend the last rupee in the party coffers to win in the 2014 elections. But do you have a strategy in place to counter this all too obvious ploy?” I asked.
His answer gave me a glimpse into the average Congressman’s dilemma in Odisha. “What strategy can we possible devise when the party high command’s strategy is to keep Naveen Babu in good humour till the next elections in the fond hope that his 14-15 MPs may come in handy at the time of government formation after the elections?” the leader asked with a rather long sigh.
This, more than the (mis)use of money, muscle and administrative power, is what makes Naveen so cocky. He knows that confusion, self-doubt, uncertainty and exasperation have eaten into the vitals of the Congress party organisation in the state. What fight can it put up when it knows that their leadership is in the enemy camp?
Jayadev Jena himself gave the clearest possible indication of the extent of influence that Naveen wields in the affairs of the state unit of the Congress party when he accused him, in his very first address to the party cadres after taking over as PCC president in May this year, of plotting his ouster from the same post on the eve of the 2009 elections.
But to give the devil its due, one must admit that Naveen is not banking on the disenchantment of the average Congressman alone to win the next elections. He has covered all the tracks to ensure that he does not falter.
Notwithstanding the fact that he does not share a single trait – whether personal or political – with his father, he has managed to usurp Biju Ptanaik’s mantle seamlessly. For those for whom the Biju name may not be a good enough reason to vote for BJD, he has unleashed a virtual deluge of sops covering every conceivable segment of the society – the latest to be added to the list of beneficiaries being the journalistic tribe.
For those unimpressed by either of these two factors, there is money – plenty of it – to be had for choosing to blow the ‘conch’. He has deftly used every trick in the book (and some not in the book too!) to spread confusion in the opposition ranks and to make the recalcitrant fall in line.
It is indeed an unbeatable winning formula.
But Naveen’s greatest achievement, in this blogger’s view, has been his management of public perception. Despite presiding over arguably the most corrupt government in the history of the state (even the thoroughly discredited JB Patnaik regime in the 1980s does not come anywhere near), he has successfully sold a shiny, ‘Surf’ white image of himself to the electorate.
Despite having nothing other than utter despise for the Odia race, language and culture, he has successfully tapped into the average educated Odia’s disgruntlement against the Central government – especially of the Congress variety – for its alleged ‘step motherly’ attitude to the state.
Despite the bulk of the money for the welfare schemes that he never forgets to tomtom coming from the Centre, he has successfully packaged them as his own bounty to the people of the state.
I was aghast to hear a seemingly educated and aware friend living in Bhubaneswar, on seeing a 108 ambulance whiz past, exclaim: “This is something really great that Naveen has done.”
On the face of it, Naveen looks unbeatable in the near future. But the great thing about Indian politics is that the voter has an uncanny knack of making mincemeat of this unquantifiable commodity called ‘perception’ and making a bakra of the politician.
That is the one lesson that the results of the Assembly in four states reiterated on Sunday.
Who could have foreseen that Sheila Dixit would not only preside over the decimation of her party in the Delhi elections, but would also herself lose by an astounding margin of over 26, 000 votes to rookie Arvind Kejriwal?
After all, there was no apparent anger against the three-time chief minister, who topped the popularity charts for the CM’s post till the day of the election.
Therein, perhaps, lies a lesson for Naveen.