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Naveen and the ‘shadow of corruption’

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Blog : MY TAKE
By Sandeep Sahu

Even a year and a half after he was expelled from the BJD, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, by all accounts, remains the man who knows more about the Great Odisha Mining Scam than anybody else in the ruling party. Perhaps that is why he had given the clearest possible indication yet about why the scam is the proverbial Achilles Heel for the man who is the founder-owner of the party.

In a moment of rare candour, while he was still calling all the shots in the party as well as the government, the erstwhile ‘margdarshak’ had quipped, “Do you want us to commit suicide?” when asked by media persons if the government would hand over the investigation of the mining scam to the CBI.
devils_naveen
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand why the wily old fox thought handing over the probe to the CBI would be akin to committing ‘suicide’. Now, the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry has asked the government to commit ‘suicide’. But will the man, who is at the centre of it all, bite the bullet?

Given the self preservation instincts of the Lord of the ruling party and government, it is highly unlikely that he would swallow the bait. The fact that his government, which is in possession of the Commission report for over a month now, is still ‘studying’ the report suggests that handing over the inquiry to the CBI is the last thing it intends to do. If anything, it is, in all likelihood, looking for loopholes in the report to make a case for not doing so. Or, better still, take a leaf out of the Prithviraj Chouhan government in Maharashtra and reject it altogether without so much as citing a reason.

But I, for one, believe that it makes eminent sense for Naveen Patnaik to order a CBI inquiry at this stage. The time was never more favourable for him for such a course of action.

Though the Lokpal Bill was rushed through in indecent haste in parliament, it would be a while before the rules under the law are framed and the superstructure for its effective functioning is put in place. Naveen thus has to do whatever he wants to do before the Lokpal gets going. [With a whole year’s time in his hands, Naveen does not have to worry about the Lokayukta as yet. He can postpone passing of the Lokayukta Bill till well after the 2014 elections.]

Whichever way one looks at it, the time between now and the next elections is all that Naveen has to bury the ghost of the mining scam time for good. Luckily for him, this is the also the period when he is in the best position to play his cards.

With the tottering Congress-led UPA government at the Centre clutching at straws, it would bend over backwards to bail him out of any trouble (as it has done famously in case of the UP duo of Mulayam and Mayawati) as long as he can dangle the carrot of the support of his party for a possible UPA III.

Apart from the support of the BJD MPs, the Congress has its own reasons to ensure that the CBI investigation leads nowhere.

After all, the Shah Commission, in its report, has not spared the UPA government either. The Naveen Patnaik government in the state and the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre are thus on the same boat and have a vested interest in scratching each other’s back. That will take care of the period till Election 2014, which will be the most crucial period for a CBI investigation if it is ordered now. The entire investigation can be derailed for good during these few months to the benefit of both.

If, as it appears more likely, the BJP emerges as the single largest party – and thus in a better position than its principal rival to form the government at the Centre – after the next general elections, all that Naveen has to do is to enter into a similar deal with the saffron party by dangling the same carrot.

In any case, the BJP, having found out in the period since its split in 2009 that it does not have legs of its own to stand on in the state, is dying to get back into his lap. If it means taking the CBI off Naveen’s back, it would be a rather small price to pay for getting a shot at the Centre again.

In the six years that it was in power at the Centre, the BJP has shown that it is not particularly averse to such deal making.

Either way, it is a win-win situation for Naveen Patnaik!

Then, what exactly is it that makes him so nervous about a CBI inquiry? May be it is the fear of the unknown; the fear that once the genie is out of the bottle, it would be impossible to get it back. Or is it the fear that an overzealous Supreme Court, acting on some PIL filed by a spoilsport, could decide to monitor the CBI investigation as it has done in the case of the 2G and coal scam?

Another possible reason could be the belief that he would be seen as going back on his stand and indirectly admitting that there was indeed something fishy about the whole affair, if he hands over the probe to the CBI?

But in taking a call on the issue, Naveen must consider the price that he has to pay in the long term if he does not agree to a CBI inquiry. The more he keeps stonewalling the demand for a CBI inquiry, the deeper will the ‘shadow of corruption’ (a phrase made famous by the BJD supremo himself) over him grow.

Naveen may continue to win elections despite the charge. But the taint of presiding over the biggest, the longest and the most organised loot of mineral resources in the history of the state, would never really go away till he is exonerated by a CBI inquiry.

Any chance that Naveen would heed my unsolicited, two-penny worth advice ? Well, your guess is as good as mine !