Reported by Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar, May 18:
When the new government in Odisha takes oath on May 21, who all will be in Team Naveen and who all would be kept out ? This question is doing the rounds in both the political and media circles and triggering all kinds of speculations, similar, if not as intense, to the guesstimates that preceded the declaration of the poll results.
The reason why there is an element of suspense to it is because; quite like the sealed EVM machines, the chief minister Naveen Patnaik is known to keep his political moves under complete secrecy until he chooses to go public and spring surprises.
Although almost all ministers who have won, and at least 30 senior and youth leaders are aspirants, constrained by rules, Patnaik has to limit the size of his ministry to 22-including himself. The other four prized posts that he has to decide on, are that of the Speaker, deputy speaker, government chief whip and deputy chief whip.
Party insiders say, unlike the previous government Naveen is likely to consider the representation of all the 13 undivided districts, women, SC and ST and strike a balance.He would most likely seek a balance between the old and the new, veterans and the youth while rewarding some perceived to have been the ‘giant killers’, say the sources..
With 117 out of 147 seats in his pocket, the chief minister does not have to worry about ‘dissidents’ or see any need to re-induct most of the ministers of the previous government. In fact, there is every likelihood that he may not fill up two to three posts of ministers, just to keep the rest of the aspirants happy, hoping and waiting.
The job of selecting from among the senior leaders has been made easy after the defeat of three ministers Prasanna Acharya, Rabi Narayan Nanda and Pratap Dev. Besides, former minister Prafulla Ghadai did not contest the election while Kalpataru Das and Sarojini Hembram have been sent to the Rajya Sabha.
AU Singhdeo, who would have been a powerful contender from western Odisha regions has failed to make it to the Assembly this time.
Sources in the ruling party say among the senior leaders who are front runners include Dr Damodar Rout, Devi Prasad Mishra, Bijayshree Routray, Pramila Mallick, Surya Narayan Patro, Badri Narayan Patra, Speaker Pradip Amat, Padmanav Behera, Sasibhushan Behera and Usha Devi, while almost all senior leaders including those who were part of the last ministry are hoping to get the all-important call from Naveen Niwas.
Many feel Naveen Patnaik may not have three ministers from Ganjam since he is himself representing it. Then there are speculations that he may drop a male minister from Ganjam while retaining Usha Devi.
The most challenging job for the chief minister will be choosing from among half a dozen leaders from one district – Cuttack. The contenders other than Devi Prasad Mishra include Pravat Tripathy, Pravat Biswal, Ranendra Pratap Swain, Pratap Jena and Debashis Samantray. But there is little chance that more than two from the district would be accommodated.
Leaders who constitute the young brigade in BJD, Arun Sahu, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, Dabasish Nayak, Ramesh Majhi, Subrat Tarai, Rajanikant Singh, Ramesh Majhi Puspendra Singhdeo, Balabhadra Majhi and Niranjan Pujari – all of whom were part of the earlier ministries stand a good chance.
Sources say Ashok Panda and Sanjay Das Barma are the two other senior but ‘young’ leaders who are under the active consideration of the party supremo. If Sanjay makes it to the final list, senior Puri district leaders like Maheswar Mohanty and Pradip Maharathi as well as the vocal young MLA from Nimapara Samir Das would have little scope to enter the final list.
From the Jajpur district, other than Amar Prasad Satpathy, there are some first-time and second time MLAs from Jajpur district – Pranab Prakash Das, Kalpataru Das’ son Pranab Balbantray and the popular film star Akash Das Nayak- who may catch Naveen’s fascination, said sources.
One of the three leaders from Mayurbhanj who are in the race- former minister Prabin Bhanjdeo, former JMM Odisha chief Sudam Marandi and deputy speaker Sanand Marandi – may be accommodated said sources, adding, Sudam has the brightest chance of them all.
From Baleswar district, Naveen may choose one of the two major contenders- Anant Das and Jiban Pradeep Das.
According to sources, the chief minister is strongly against inducting anyone who is even remotely connected with the chit fund companies to avoid any situation where the‘clean image’ of the government would be under a cloud. The chief minister surely knows who all are involved in the matter and there is a realization that after the CBI has taken over the investigation into the chit fund scam the state government will not be able to shield them any longer.
About the four non-ministerial posts, but carry privileges including the beacon lights atop their cars, Naveen may not find the task difficult at all. There are a number of veterans for the Speaker’s post such as Jugal Kishore Patnaik, Mangala Kisan, Bed Prakash Agarwal, Nrusingha Sahu, Padmanav Behera.
The names of those that do not appear here, are not necessarily out of contention or beyond the chief minister’s consideration.
For all you know, Naveen Patnaik could ultimately come up with a list that suits his fancy and whims- because with a landslide victory to his credit, he can really afford to do pick and choose at will without the slightest fear of a backlash.