Amply known for his avowed policy of equidistance from the Congress and the BJP, Naveen Patnaik has of late shown signs of inching closer to the saffron outfit. The change in taste and temperament is marked after Narendra Modi led BJP cantered home for the second term with a colossal majority. Naveen, too, retained his citadel but had to concede eight Parliamentary seats to the BJD’s arch rival. Besides giving BJD the scare in Lok Sabha contests, the BJP also grabbed 23 seats in the state assembly, improving its tally from 10 in the previous term.
But it’s not after the elections that Naveen’s digressional tactics were known. In interviews to national media before the polls, the regional satrap dropped adequate hints that an alliance with the ruling dispensation was on the cards. The alliance did not necessarily connote formally joining the government but backing it on all key policy issues with a tacit quid pro quo deal. However, Naveen clarified that his BJD would rally around any coalition which lays great thrust on Odisha’s interests.
Naveen’s gestures, both literally and metaphorically, convey a continuation of his pre-poll announcements. First, he has met the Prime Minister thrice in the aftermath of the polls to work out political permutations and combinations. Modi has been munificent enough to offer the post of deputy speaker of Lok Sabha to a BJD member though the regional bloc is only the fifth largest Opposition party by strength of numbers. Lately, Naveen startled all including leaders in his own group by throwing his party’s weight behind BJP’s nominee Ashwini Vaishnaw, a former bureaucrat turned corporate honcho as the Rajya Sabha member. This was despite the fact that the ruling BJD had the numbers to send a third candidate from its own bloc. And, without a shred of doubt, all three BJD members would have won without much ado.
Naveen’s bizarre choice of backing the BJP candidate has flustered many in the BJD. Before the polls of 2019, Naveen had declaimed that Prasanna Patasani and the above board Ramesh Chandra Chhaupatnaik would be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Both leaders are now disconsolate at their leader dumping them for no convincing reasons. So, why did Naveen announce their names? And, later why did he renege on his promises? So much unlike the Odisha chief minister, observers stated but quickly retorted that the move was guided by political expediencies. For the high profile Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat, Naveen had handpicked a superannuated IPS- Arup Patnaik to foil BJP nominee Aparajita Sarangi’s chances. Not to arouse the five-time MP and four-time MLA Patasani, Naveen played safe with the decision to send him to the Upper house.
While Naveen may not join the Modi government at the Centre, a covert understanding is essential to prevent his party from going off kilter. The wall of BJD, impregnable though, is daubed with scandals of multiple proportions- many of Naveen’s ministers are knee deep in chit fund scam that pillaged the common people of their wealth they sweated for. Odisha doesn’t need a replay of Bengal where Mamata’s direct confrontation with the BJP-led NDA over CBI probe landed her in soup. Naveen also realises he has to lean on Central funding to support a plethora of populist schemes that have enabled him to reclaim the massive mandate for the fifth term in succession. His own government’s finances are strained and revenues are not growing as they ought to in post GST regime. Naveen has also revived the demand for special category status demand for Odisha- the tag will help the state to avail 90 per cent funds for all central government flagship schemes. But whether Naveen is changing discourse all for Odisha’s interest or with some personal axes to grind is a Rubik’s cube to resolve.