When he was the minister for energy, IT and women & child development, Pranab Prakash Das got top billing. He was doubtless the best performer in Naveen Patnaik’s Council of Ministers as a first of its kind appraisal by the Chief Minister amply demonstrated. Later, when the party supremo wished Pranab Prakash aka ‘Bobby’ to take up a more eclectic, variegated role of strengthening the party cadre and its organisational muscle at the grassroots, the guru’s pupil duly obliged.
And, Bobby hasn’t let his boss down. He ensured stupendous success for the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) at Bijepur which earned the tag of an unusual by-poll. The scale of campaigning as well as resources deployed for this by election was unprecedented by any stretch of imagination. Riding on Bobby’s strategies and diligent efforts, the ruling BJD coasted home, usurping the seat from Congress. Remember, the Bijepur assembly constituency was the Congress party’s bastion for over a decade with the historic party winning it back to back in three consecutive assembly polls.
In 2019 polls too, Bobby’s skills and strategies went through the litmus test. And, he came out stronger and more successful, vindicating the immense trust of the chief minister. It was Bobby who forecasted before the poll results that the BJD will romp home, bagging 105-112 seats. His prophetic words rang true when the outcome was announced.
Later when the names of probable minister did the rounds, the name of Pranab Prakash Das did not figure. But Bobby realises he’s already enacting a role larger than what any incumbent minister can dream to get. Bobby’s counsel is sought for to induct ministers and decide their portfolios. It is believed that the BJD supremo profusely consults him for matters relating to the party’s structure and assigning responsibilities to the ministers. Ergo, it wasn’t an exaggeration when a disgruntled BJD leader appropriately referred to Bobby as ‘Next to P’ (Pandian, Naveen’s personal secretary), capable of elevating leaders or sabotaging them as circumstances warranted.
That Bobby enjoys overriding powers is not hard to fathom. It has already sunk into the psyches of the who’s who in the BJD; some of the party stalwarts have also harboured deep resentment for Bobby due to his avowed closeness to the Chief Minister. Bobby has been a quite operator, reclusive to media glare but has played his cards with great skill. He knows he enjoys enormous trust of the party president. Grapevine has it that Naveen is directly calling Bobby and showering his instructions and blessings on the Young Turk. Recently, the party boss is understood to have communicated to Bobby to ensure a robust win for the BJD at the ensuing polls at Patkura scheduled on July 20.
Following the demise of BJD candidate Ved Prakash Agarwal, the BJD has fielded his widow Savitri Agarwal from the constituency. Naveen wants his party to trounce the nearest rival by at least 30,000 votes. To assist Bobby, the party chieftain has lined up a posse of over 20 ministers and MLAs. The BJP candidate from Patkura Bijoy Mohapatra is Naveen’s bugbear ever since the chief minister denied him a ticket in 2000. Challenging Naveen has proved to be a bitter pill to swallow for Mohapatra who has been cooling his heels since then- losing in 2004, 2009 and 2014 polls. With Bobby consolidating the BJD like never before, the chances of Mohapatra turning to be Naveen’s nemesis are petering out.