The run-up to the most awaited 2019 elections has been punctuated with jittery moments for the redoubtable Biju Janata Dal (BJD). After ruling the state for over 19 years and for four terms on a trot, the BJD is presumably feeling the quiver within.
In full public glare with the shutterbugs focused on him, the BJD supremo and one of the longest serving chief ministers, Naveen Patnaik sounds confident of sweeping the polls again. A couple of surveys have perched BJD over rivals, vindicating the party boss’ optimism. But Naveen, the political recluse yet a master poll strategist is warming up to the dissent within. He realises it’s not going to be a cakewalk unlike the previous polls where the BJD decimated the BJP and Congress without much ado.
The normally surefooted Naveen looks to be losing his grip of late on his party. The unchallenged leader who had the last word in culling candidates for polls perhaps feels jaded with four consecutive terms in the high office. An MLA with a squeaky clean image, distraught after being denied the party ticket, was befuddled when he learnt the chief minister was kept in the dark on the development. The party boss was dismayed to know the winnable candidate being cold shouldered for a ticket. So much so that now a buzz is floating in the power corridors on whether the BJD supremo actually checked the candidates’ roster before stamping his approval? Or, someone in his coterie called the shots?
So, what has flustered the formidable Naveen? His electoral success has dwarfed opponents across the political spectrum. His considerable charisma with the electorate still gives goose bumps to the Opposition ranks. It’s the murmur of discord within that has found sublime utterance. Naveen, known to have zero tolerance for violators of intra-party discipline, has found it profoundly difficult to stifle dissenting voices this time. After Jay Panda’s unceremonious exit and his joining the BJP camp, Naveen had to digest the long-time acolyte of Biju Patnaik, that former minister with the foot-in-mouth disease, Damodar Rout donning the saffron robe. Both Panda and Rout were defenestrated from the BJD for breaching discipline and getting enmeshed in anti-party activities.
But what has rankled the regional satrap is the searing rate of exodus of leaders from his party after being cold shouldered for tickets. This phenomenon is unprecedented for the BJD. History shows no one quite stood up to Naveen who always had his way- his’ was the last word on candidate selection. The sitting BJD MP from Nabarangpur Balabhadra Majhi startled when he switched to BJP. Pratyasha Rajeshwari followed suit on being denied a ticket from Kandhamal despite being a sitting MP. Naveen’s BJD, instead decided to field KIIT founder Achyuta Samanta from the constituency, perhaps to leverage his enormous tribal clout.
Five MLAs who traditionally swore for the BJP have also jumped fences, lured by the blandishments of the Opposition. As a ponderous BJD boss weighs the impact of Ayarams and Gayarams on his electoral success, we suggest a few pointers to buck the unsavoury trend.
- Enforce discipline but offer space:Intra-party discipline is the sine qua non for any successful political party. In its absence, the party disintegrates and turns vulnerable to jibes from others. Here’s where Naveen ought to assert his presence through consistent advisories to his party men. Allowing a gulf to build up between you and your followers can let things spiral out of control. The key lies in engaging your party cadre. Also, by keeping a stern vigil on activities of the party leaders, he should nip any dissent in the bud lest more Jay Panda like incidents resurface. Having said that, the party chieftain needs to empathise with his flock, offering reasonable scope to air their views and grievances. This streak will help blossom the bond, containing defections considerably.
- Replace discretion with reason in selecting candidates for polls:Naveen Patnaik emphatically announced before newshounds that winnability will be the key criterion for candidate selection for the 2019 polls. He needs to walk the talk in culling leaders for distributing party tickets. Sitting MPs and MLAs have handsome chances of winning again unless they are done in by an anti-incumbency wave. Shuffling candidates just for the heck of change or obliging people for their fealty can be suicidal. To retain the winning momentum, you don’t often alter an established combination. Reason needs to supplant discretion when you select candidates for a challenging electoral battle.
- Appraise your team, reward the blazing performers:Recognition or a formal endorsement of your work is the most coveted award. This is as much a truism in politics as in any other vocation. Naveen Patnaik set off an exemplary trend in 2018 when he awarded his credible performers in the state legislative assembly. The same recognition must also be conferred on the MPs. He can go beyond and embark upon a regular appraisal of his lawmakers’ performance. The outstanding performers can be feted, the slothful can be subjected to a thorough dressing down to goad them to better their record. A constant scrutiny helps to herd your team.
- Create avenues for ageing leaders:Old timers are often given a raw deal in a party when it comes to dangling tickets. The old guard is usually cold shouldered despite a proven track record of unblemished service to the party. By roping in the veteran Prafulla Ghadei, Naveen showed ample sign of his perspicacity. You may not enrich them with tickets but they can enrich you with sage advice on electoral strategising and trumping your adversaries. With the wealth of experience, they act like a lodestar for any party. Naveen could contemplate to form a coterie of such seasoned leaders who though timed out for electoral politics, could still steer him to victory. Having them on board would also help Naveen cut dependence on bureaucrats for tackling the knotty political matrix.