By Ashok Mohapatra*
“After Biju, who?” was a question that kept the Odisha media on the tenterhooks during the 1990s. Many blamed the man who straddled the state’s political landscape like a colossus for the confusion and uncertainty. For, Biju was not one to name his successor nor was he over-the-top about dynastic politics, often said to be the reason for his falling out with Indira Gandhi and the Congress party. That a reluctant Naveen Patnaik was made to throw his hat into his ring after Biju Babu’s demise and that it is the only hat in that hallowed space till this day is a subject that has been discussed and debated in newspaper columns and TV panels at considerable length.
However, media persons and political analysts feel they will not be so clueless this time around. Ironically enough, this time they owe their gratitude to the person they blamed for stonewalling their curiosity last time. After all, the dedication of Biju Babu’s ancestral home, Anand Bhavan, to the people of Odisha on January 13 was the occasion that gave them an inkling of the shape of things to come.
While cameras panned as Naveen Patnaik walked in with brother Prem Patnaik in tow, they went into the tight close-up mode the moment they realized that the likely scion was part of the entourage. With the spotlight on the BJD supremo’s nephew, it was just a matter of time before reporters scrambled to get the byte that would make their day. To Arun Patnaik’s credit, he did not shy away from the multitude of booms that greeted him. ‘…Not at the moment’ were words momentous enough to earn him hours of TV airtime and columns of newspaper space. And the heir apparent’s rock star looks certainly acted as an added incentive for the local paparazzi.
Nobody can grudge newspersons for going to town over Arun Patnaik’s rather innocuous response to a question on his entry into politics. He is not making his debut now, was the message that Arun apparently sent out. But that was enough for the media to go into a tizzy over the likely successor to the BJD throne should Naveen Patnaik opt to walk into the sunset. This is not the first time the younger Patnaik has made it into media space. There were speculations that Arun would be fielded as a party candidate during the last elections. But the rumours were scotched after Naveen decided against springing electoral surprises – perhaps in a bid to keep the flock together in the wake of disgruntlement in a section of the party as rank outsiders from rival political parties entered BJD to taste a piece of the victory cake.
Naveen might have made mincemeat of his political rivals four times in a row. He might also have stemmed the Modi tide during his last electoral test and arguably his toughest. But he sure has his hands full. More so because of the slew of scams that have dogged his government since BJD 3.0, the chit fund and mining scandals being two of the mega ones in which even the chief minister’s role has been in the firing line. That his Man Friday was questioned by the CBI in connection with one of the scams has not helped the embattled leader’s cause. While Naveen has not faced the kind of heat that has given his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee sleepless nights, the chit fund scam has definitely sullied his Teflon-coated image and given enough stick even to an otherwise patronizing media to beat him with. It may also have busted the myth that he had a lock on the anti-corruption and clean governance vote that he virtually came to monopolize over the last one and a half decade.
While the pressures are showing, one might argue that the party is yet to throw up a challenger. The abortive midnight coup (dismissed as an aberration by the chief minister’s die-hard supporters) has taught Naveen to torpedo the emergence of one. Having a No. 2 from within the party echelons is also a strict no-no for the BJD honcho. So where does the sole heir to the Biju legacy go from here? Hand over the legacy baton down the family tree of course (after all a real nephew is any day preferable to a foster ‘Uncle’!). Naming a successor might not be such a politically correct idea but parading one at a high-profile Biju-related event is surely an effective ploy. By all media accounts!
* Ashok Mohapatra is the Editor-in-Chief of leading Odia news channel MBC TV