Odisha Sun Times Political Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Feb 21:

The season of party hopping and ticket shopping has well and truly begun. With both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections due in the state in the next few weeks, aspirants are busy exploring the best possible option to enter (or re-enter) the legislature.Naveen with Ind MLAs

It all began with two independent MLAs – Jitu Patnaik and Braja Kishore Pradhan – pledging their allegiance to Chief Minister and BJD boss Naveen Patnaik just a day ahead of the Rajya Sabha election on February 7, fuelling speculation that they had been assured of BJD tickets from their respective Assembly constituencies in lieu of their support for the ruling party backed independent candidate Padma Bibhushan Raghunath Mohapatra for the fourth Rajya Sabha seat.

Around the same time, Bhimsen Choudhury, the MLA from Bonai elected on a BJP ticket last time, decided that he had no future in the party and horse jumped into the Congress camp, becoming an ‘associate’ member. He was one of the three Opposition MLAs, who were accused of offering themselves for horse trading during the last Rajya Sabha electiion in 2010. One can only surmise that he has wrested the promise of a Congress ticket  from Bonai – or a nearby constituency – from the state leadership before switching camps this time.

The comings and goings have only got more frequent with each passing day since then. And most of the movement has been towards the BJD, perhaps because of the belief among opposition leaders that a ruling party ticket is the surest possible guarantee for a place in the legislature.

On Thursday, the Congress admitted top notch Odia cine star Aparajita Mohanty into the party fold even as a long time party leader and Nayagarh district unit president Hemendra Singh headed towards Naveen Nivas for a closed door meeting with the BJD supremo. Though the scion of the Nayagarh royal family is yet to confirm it, ruling party sources say his entry into the BJD is only a matter of time now.

Later in the day, it was the turn of former minister and BJP leader from Mayurbhanj Golak Naik to set the rumour mills into overdrive with his hush-hush meeting with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Interestingly, Naik met Patnaik on a day when he was in the city to attend the BJP office bearers’ meeting to discuss the strategy for the coming elections.

Following the time honoured script for all party hoppers, Naik said it was a strictly ‘personal’ meeting. “It was a personal meeting and there is no room for any speculation,” he said when cornered by reporters. But he gave more than a hint of the shape of things to come when he added; “Everything is possible in politics.”

Senior BJP leader Suresh Pujari was also reading out from the script when he said ‘not too much’ should be read into the meeting. “It is unfair. Is Naveen Patnaik only BJD’s Chief Minister? Anyone from any party is free to meet the Chief Minister – or any minister or official for that matter – anytime. There is no reason to speculate over the timing of the visit,” he said.

But as the senior BJP leader who was the president of the state unit during the last election in 2009 knows only too well, ‘timing’ is precisely what matters in such meetings.