Sunday Salsa

The ‘Trump Card’

Interview based Positive Journalism Bhubaneswar Odisha

By Sandeep Sahu

For once, speculation proved spot on. Weeks of animated talk in political and media circles about the possibility of Aparajita Sarangi taking the political plunge that began as soon as she applied for VRS in September got into fever pitch on Saturday when the feisty former bureaucrat issued a loaded statement on Twitter that left little room for doubt that the speculation was not hot air after all though she stopped just short of admitting that she is indeed joining politics.

On the face of it, there is no mention of the word ‘politics’ in the tweet by Aparajita, only her fourth since she debuted in the popular social media network last month. But if one reads between the lines, it becomes clear that her political innings has transcended the realm of ‘possibility’ and is now on the throes of becoming a ‘reality’. “I just received my order finally approved by our Hon’ble Prime Minister today. I am grateful to him for his kind acceptance and approval. I look forward to the next journey with enthusiasm, positivity and optimism. I seek the blessings of Lord Jagannath and good wishes of all.”

While the first two sentences are more of a formal nature, it is next two that are a definite giveaway. Notice the use of the phrase ‘next journey’ in the third for which she seeks the ‘blessings of Lord Jagannath and good wishes of all’ in the fourth. As anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with politics in Odisha knows, invocation of the Lord of the Universe is a mandatory affair every time a politician begins a new innings, a party is launched or a government is formed. Thus, Aparajita was just following the time honoured tradition of Odisha politics.

Earlier, in response to a tweet by an apparently concerned admirer who had advised her to be wary of the ‘muddy waters’ of politics and think hard before taking the plunge, the former Odisha cadre IAS officer had said; “I have always loved to take challenges. If the intentions are right and we are ready to put in very hard work, the universe will conspire in our favour.” Considering that this was in reply to a poser on politics, this tweet was an even more explicit admission of her entry into politics than the one followed.

Any residual doubt over her foray into active politics would be immediately dispelled on a visit to her residence in Bhubaneswar, which is buzzing with activity these days. Aparajita’s phone is busier these days than it ever was when she was a hard working bureaucrat in the state. [Someone who met her on Saturday counted 20 calls in a span of just half an hour!] These are tell-tale signs of the shape of things to come. Observing the guest list makes it clear that not only is she jumping headlong into electoral politics, but straight into the ‘lotus’ pond!

While both the BJP and the BJD rolled out the red carpet for Aparajita after the acceptance of her VRS application by the PMO, it is now certain that she would join the former. The fact that four of the eight people she follows on Twitter are BJP leaders – PMOIndia, Narendra Modi, Dharmendra Pradhan and Pitambar Acharya – is another giveaway as to where her political loyalties lie. [The other four are Ratan Tata and three of her former colleagues in the IAS.]

With her foray into politics no more in doubt, the speculation has now shifted to which constituency she would make her electoral debut in. Sources close to her say it is all but certain that she would be fielded as the BJP candidate in Bhubaneswar where she earned her reputation as a tough, no nonsense officer who doesn’t mind wielding the stick to ensure rules are followed. It is not clear at the moment, however, whether she would contest for the Assembly election or run for MP. Either way, the idea essentially is to cash in on the goodwill she had earned as an honest, hard working and people-friendly officer, especially during her stint as the Commissioner of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC). A discreet survey carried out to judge the people’s response apparently found ’80-90%’ Bhubaneswarites backing her as a candidate.

Having realized that its sustained, no-holds-barred attack is making no significant dent on the popularity of Naveen Patnaik, a desperate BJP is hoping that Aparajita would turn out to be just the ‘trump card’ that it sorely lacks at the moment. She has a lot going for her as enters the political arena. As a fresh entrant into the political arena, she doesn’t carry any baggage from the past that most career politicians have to grapple with. And now that she is free from the shackles imposed by the code of conduct as a government officer, she can be trusted to come out with some damaging revelations about the goings on in the government machinery that can dent its image. As an insider, her word would certainly have greater weight and credibility than the allegations routinely made by Opposition leaders. The choice of Aparajita could also be part of a new found tactic of fighting ‘fire with fire’ (read bureaucrat with bureaucrat!).

Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the former bureaucrat has taken a huge gamble by opting to quit the IAS and join politics. She has taken an even bigger risk by casting her lot with the saffron party when most ex bureaucrats entering politics are heading for the ruling BJD. But then, as she has herself explained, she ‘loves to take challenges’.

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