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Naveen Patnaik for Prime Minister, really!

By Saswat Panigrahi | Last Updated: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 20:32
Saswat Panigrahi
The ‘Right’ Way

Politics has an uncanny knack of springing surprises. Did you notice Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's ‘Third Front’ blabber? In a tone matching new found wisdom, Patnaik went to the media dubbing the Congress-led UPA as ‘discredited’ and ‘corruption ridden’ and BJP-led NDA as ‘communally-tainted’ - thereby justifying the need for a fresh political formulation, maintaining equidistance from the two existing ones.

Patnaik’s statement came amidst the chorus against UPA’s pet project National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) as non-Congress CMs claimed that it was “a dangerous attempt to destroy the autonomy of the states".

<b>Wild prediction for Naveen</b>

But surprisingly a section of the media projected Patnaik as the new leader on the block and suggested that he could head an upcoming third political alliance. Some imaginations bordered on the wild, predicting Patnaik's pivotal role as the future kingmaker or possibly the king, post 2014 elections.

Well, I know one should not write off anyone in politics. But at the same time the prospect of Patnaik turning out to be the leader of the new front or he becoming the Prime Minister in the process looks outrageous to me at the moment. Having said that let me explain why?

Sample this - Odisha is not the only state to oppose NCTC. There are several states who have opposed any sort of encroachment on the federal structure of our polity. And the list includes BJP CMs too.

<b>Who will go with Naveen? </b>

Patnaik is said to be emerging as the leader of regional political parties on the mere basis of their opposition to NCTC and these include Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Tamil-Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and former Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu. Except for Naidu, none of the CMs has said anything on the formation of a third front and the possible leader of such a front.

In an era of coalition politics, the role of regional parties, with the right kind of presence in Lok Sabha, will be important in the next elections. Well, if at all Naveen Patnaik is acceptable as the leader of the regional bloc; the question arises as to who will go with him?

Let us examine possible scenarios. First, the names of players who could make or break the third front - If Mayawati-led BSP joins the Naveen-led bloc, Mulayam Singh-led SP would be automatically excluded. In the fifteenth Lok Sabha, the SP has 22 MPs followed by 21 of BSP, whereas the BJD has 14 MPs. (Remember, Odisha has only 21 Lok Sabha constituencies). The numbers may increase or decrease. But in politics numbers decide the rules of the game.

Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) cannot think about going with Naveen Patnaik (despite both sharing good vibes), because the JD(U) needs BJP to run the government in Bihar and this equation is unlikely to change in 2014. If the possibility of JD(U) joining the Naveen camp does not materialise, then there are two other regional players in Bihar - Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP - who could join the Naveen bloc. Lalu maintains his proximity with the Congress. For Prasad, who has been enduring ‘political unemployment’ for long, it won’t be a bad idea to jump on to the Naveen bandwagon. Ram Vilas Paswan, better known for party hopping, will be more than happy to join the Naveen bloc, hoping for a berth at the Centre.

AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa, an astute politician, is better known as a ‘NDA bird’. But under compulsions, if she decides to join the supposed Naveen-led third front , her political rival M Karunanidhi and DMK would be excluded and vice versa. In a way, BJD-DMK alliance will look good as both are neck deep in scams.

Now, also look at the possibility of some national players joining Naveen’s camp. Naveen Patnaik shares good relationship with the Communists. After Patnaik left the NDA, just before the 2009 elections, CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury and CPI general secretary AB Bardhan rushed to Bhubaneswar to ink a poll pact with the BJD. The Communists are giving outside support to the BJD government in Odisha despite opposing Patnaik’s mega-industry plank. The Communists would be more than comfortable in joining the Naveen bloc, but that is under <i>ceteris paribus</i> condition. The Left do not see eye to eye with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. So if Banarjee joins the Naveen bloc, Communists would be excluded.

Don’t forget that Mamata is a woman for all seasons and can join the block - even at the last minute – if it has the capacity to form government in New Delhi. There could be the possibility of another national party - Sharad Pawar-led NCP – of joining the Naveen-led front. BJD entered into an electoral alliance with the NCP in Odisha during 2009 Assembly elections. The NCP is in coalition with the Congress at the Centre and in Maharashtra. So for instant political benefit, the NCP cannot just risk its relationship with the Congress.

Among the rest of the regional pack, currently out of work TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu could support Naveen. Then there is Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which Patnaik is likely to welcome to garner some support.

<b>Naveen’s anti-communal bubble</b>

Now comes the question - Will Naveen Patnaik’s ‘anti-communal’ plank cut ice with the people? Remember, the BJD made its political debut with the BJP. And together they ruled Odisha between 2000 and 2009. Even while blasting ‘communal’ BJP, sources indicate that Patnaik has been in constant touch with top saffron leaders for a possible realignment in Odisha and his re-entry to NDA.

<b>Naveen as PM! </b>

While I agree that every citizen with the right kind of support can become the Prime Minister of this country, let’s find out Naveen's chances (as a section of media insists) for the top job.

There is a famous saying – ‘A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds’. Naveen is enjoying the chief ministership for the third term in a row. So what? JB Patnaik was CM of Odisha thrice. Lalu Prasad Yadav ruled Bihar for fifteen-long years. I don’t think winning election is really an index of popularity.

A product of pedigree politics, Naveen achieved political heights overnight. After his father Biju Patnaik’s demise in April 1997, when Janata Dal sought a candidate for Aska Lok Sabha constituency, it was party strategist Bijoy Mohapatra, who brought him from pen to politics. Patnaik retained his father’s citadel with a huge margin, thanks to the sympathy wave blowing in the state in favour of the legendry leader. To cash in on that wave, BJP’s strategist late Pramod Mahajan also met Biju loyalists. They were more than willing to merge the Odisha unit of the Janata Dal with the BJP. But it was Mahajan who proposed the idea to float a party in the name of Biju babu and its alliance with the BJP to bring down the Congress in Odisha, a suggestion the Janata leaders could not but accept.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was formed in December 1997 and its alliance with the BJP was forged in February 1998. It is said that all formative support for the BJD was provided by the BJP. Again it was Mohapatra, who proposed Patnaik’s name to lead the party.

Odisha voted en bloc for the BJP-BJD coalition as the state was waiting for a chance to pack-up the ‘corrupt Congress’. Riding on an anti-Congress wave, BJP-BJD coalition swept the state elections and Naveen became the CM.

The first thing he did after becoming the CM was fire his mentor Bijoy Mohapatra - the man who could have been the king himself. Then Naveen withdrew another BJD founder Dilip Ray first from the union cabinet and then axed him from the party.

Friends of Naveen say that he suffers from paranoia. After over a decade-long coalition with the BJP in Odisha, he ditched the saffron party on the eve of the 2009 polls. The decision was ruthless and surprised many.

With a track record of deception and pretence, Patnaik will always be a suspect among his allies willing to form a third front.

<b>Naveen’s image - Anything but clean</b>

Now, let me touch upon the image Patnaik has. He was once credited with a clean image. But his squeaky clean image was blown to pieces once the mining scam broke. As the Pandora's Box opened, it became evident as to how his government had allowed mineral smugglers to plunder Odisha to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crores, giving birth to the biggest scam in independent India’s history. Soon more skeletons tumbled out of the closet.

It was Naveen’s BJD government which illegally allotted as much as 6,000 acre of three-crop agricultural land - including 1,300 acre belonging to Lord Jagannath Temple - for the proposed dubious Vedanta university project in Puri-Konark marine drive. Odisha Lokpal indicted the Patnaik government for illegal land allotment. The biggest land grab scam in independent India was waiting to happen in the state. Thanks to Orissa High Court, the project was shelved. Then Vedanta’s proposed bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri was cancelled, following NC Saxena report. The report indicted the BJD government again.

The saga of corruption in Naveen Patnaik government does not end here. Apart from mining scam and the two Vedanta scams, the BJD government is involved in dal scam, coal scam and rural job scam - the list goes on.

Patnaik government is highly unpopular for its ‘mega industry’ plank. By allowing industries at the cost of livelihood of the people, the BJD government has made industries the beneficiary and the state a looser.

Odisha has not forgotten the Kalinganagar massacre of January 2006, where poor Tribals demanding compensation for their lost land received bullets in return.

From Kalinganagar to Kandhamal, Tribals are being squeezed out of their ancestral land. Patnaik is being branded as anti-famer, anti-poor and anti-tribal.

Recently the state witnessed a hooch tragedy, which claimed 40 lives ahead of the Panchayat polls. Those who died after consuming the toxic ‘election brand’ liquor were the poorest of the poor. But this did not affect the electoral performance of Patnaik’s BJD as the party swept the Panchayat polls, thanks to the poor opposition forces in Odisha.

Patnaik might have won few elections in a row, but I must say that as a CM he has totally failed to address the gap between Odisha’s potential and performance. The people of Odisha are now bored with his perennial ‘central apathy’ rhetoric.

As if Manmohan Singh isn’t enough, do we need another non-performing PM?

<b>Post script: </b> Patnaik is also opposed to the proposed amendment by the Centre of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) Act. He is again being projected as the one leading the attack against the Centre. It should be noted that Naveen’s opposition to RPF Act came days after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi registered his opposition.

It seems unlikely that a man who could not learn the language of the state he rules will be acceptable by the heavily rooted Nitish Kumar, Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee...

First Published: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 20:32

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