The nomination of media stalwart Soumya Ranjan Patnaik and KISS founder Achyuta Samanta to the Rajya Sabha has set a new a paradigm for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD). This is arguably a masterstroke by the Chief Minister and BJD boss Naveen Patnaik. His political strategising and timing can upset the cart for the Opposition. Naveen had earlier announced his plans to send only people with political backdrop to the Rajya Sabha. That announcement gave sufficient inkling on his changing political priorities.
Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, chairman of Eastern Media Ltd, is the son in law of former Chief Minister and Congress veteran JB Patnaik. His political fortunes had touched a low ebb ever since he got a drubbing at the last Lok Sabha elections where he contested unsuccessfully. Patnaik then floated a new political outfit- Ama Odisha to counter a monopolistic BJD but his strategy turned out to be a damp squib. Patnaik is a known turncoat switching his fealty to parties from Congress to BJP and now to BJD, not to mention the eminently forgettable stint with Ama Odisha. But, he is hailed as a powerful media moghul who pioneered the concept of multi-media ownership in the state. His Odia daily Sambad is Odisha’s most read. His Eastern Media also owns Kanak, a TV channel known for taking pot shots at the ruling BJD led government. By bringing Soumya Patnaik into the BJD fold, Naveen has effectively sealed media control in his favour. With the number one newspaper in his grip, Naveen has a perfect foil to the numero uno channel OTV run by suspended MP Baijayant Panda’s
family. The wider objective is also to corner and quell the voice of protest by Panda.
The choice of Achyuta Samanta as the BJD’s Rajya Sabha member is also a pointer to Naveen’s political sagacity. Like Soumya, Samanta too owns a TV channel- Kalinga. Samanta runs the KIIT Group of Institutions in Bhubaneswar along with Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), a home to 25,000 tribal children who are educationally and socially nurtured from KG to PG level. Of late, KISS is gaining international acclaim and spreading its reach across the country with some corporate support. BJD partnering Samanta is seen as wooing tribals and beefing up the party’s tribal vote bank. Veteran filmmaker turned politician Prashant Nanda who has been eternally loyal to the BJD since he joined has also been rewarded. Nanda is Naveen’s third pick for the Rajya Sabha.
Three of the party’s sitting Rajya Sabha MPs- AU Singhdeo, AV Swamy and Dilip Tirkey have their terms ending in April. New faces in the Upper House with more political acumen, influence on the Fourth Estate and networking skills promise to give BJD the edge before the next polls in 2019.