Why Advani went wrong in Orissa?

Saswat Panigrahi

BJP veteran LK Advani’s silence on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik -- who is confronting a volley of corruption charges -- during the Orissa leg of Jan Chetna Yatra has virtually triggered a cadre revolt in state BJP.

While playing the issue of corruption to the public gallery, he spoke extensively on the successive scams -- Cash-for-vote scam, 2G spectrum scam and CWG scam -- under the UPA rule and highlighted its inability to bring back lakhs of crores of black money stashed in tax havens. However, he did not make any direct or indirect reference to the state of affairs in Orissa.

Responding to newspersons’ query about the series of scams during Naveen Patnaik’s regime, Advani said, "Since the yatra is a pan-India campaign, the overall focus should ideally be on the issue of corruption at the Centre. But, so far as the corruption in the states is concerned, we are concerned with the states we rule." He quickly added, “The state leadership would answer them.”

Answering a question on the “possibility” of a BJP-BJD alliance in future, the octogenarian leader said, “It is a speculative question...I am not ruling out anything, though at the moment the relations between the two have become tense."

Advani’s move was meticulously planned, carefully scripted and skilfully calculated. By maintaining a stoic silence on the scam-tainted Patnaik government, the BJP veteran has hurled broad hints for reviving ties with the BJD. This is not to dispute that during the BJP-BJD honeymoon days, Patnaik was Advani’s blue eyed boy and was enjoying a status which none of the other senior Orissa BJP leaders had.

Today, at a time when the BJP leader is apparently projecting himself as a prime ministerial candidate, he sees an opportunity in re-cultivating Patnaik and his BJD.

It’s been a couple of days since Advani made those comments. But the after effect is refusing to die down. The resentment in the state unit is evident. As Ashok Sahu, vice president of Orissa BJP bluntly puts, “It would have been better had Advaniji made comments on the Himalayan corruption of the Naveen Patnaik government”.

Advani’s move has put the state BJP in a tight spot. This has made the task of BJP leaders in Orissa difficult to face both the press and the public ahead of the crucial Panchayat polls. They are unable defend Advani’s political faux pas. I hope they are still busy in answering a circle of questions. The party cadres in Orissa are saddened and demoralised. It is now a challenge for the state leaders to convince irked party cadres.

But has Advani gone wrong in wooing Naveen? Can the BJP afford to rejoin hands with the BJD? As a keen observer of Orissa politics, I must search the answers for future in a timeline from the past to the present. Just read on...

Those in knowhow of Orissa’s political history can recall how BJP’s strategist late Pramod Mahajan played a crucial role in the formation of BJD, before stitching its alliance with the saffron party. After Biju Patnaik’s demise in April 1997, a sympathy wave was blowing in the state in favour of the legendry leader. To cash in on that wave, Mahajan met Biju legacy -leaders. Some of them opined to merge the Orissa unit of the Janata Dal with the BJP. But it was Mahajan who proposed to float a party in the name of Biju babu and its alliance with BJP to bring a debacle for the Congress in Orissa, 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 initial formative logistics for BJD were provided by the BJP. Biju babu’s son Naveen Patnaik, who since then was elected as a member of 11th Lok Sabha in a by-election following his father’s demise, emerged as the unanimous consensus to lead the party. Orissa voted en bloc for the BJP-BJD coalition as the state waited for a change because the Congress regime led by JB Patnaik was marked by mass corruption and which severely compromised state’s development. Riding an anti-Congress wave, BJP-BJD coalition swept State elections and Naveen became the chief minister.

However, after coming to power, the BJP started doing political piggy-riding and used Patnaik as a surrogate. In a decade long BJP-BJD regime, while the BJD was busy in enhancing its mass base, BJP did not bother to strengthen its grass roots. A sizable number of BJP leaders in Orissa distanced themselves from the organisation.

Ahead of the 2009 elections, when the BJP and BJD split over seat-sharing wrangles, a ‘cadre less’ Orissa BJP was walking on a lost path. The result was on expected lines. The BJD swept the state elections and the BJP bite the dust. Naveen Patnaik was elected as the Chief Minister for the third time in row.

The end of 2009 saw the beginning of bad days for Patnaik and his BJD government. Patnaik’s squeaky clean image took a beating ever since the mining scam broke.

As the Pandora`s Box opened, it is learnt about how the Naveen government allowed mineral smugglers to plunder Orissa to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crores, giving birth to the biggest scam in independent India’s history. Then more skeletons tumbled out of the closet.

It was 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. Orissa Lokpal indicted the Patnaik government for illegal land allotment. The biggest land grab scam in independent India was waiting to happen in Orissa. Thanks to Orissa High Court, the project was spiked.

Then came the nixing of Vedanta’s proposed bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri following NC Saxena report. The report indicted the BJD government again.

The saga of corruption in Naveen Patnaik government does not end there. Apart from mining scam and the two Vedanta scams, the BJD government is involved in dal scam, coal scam, rural job scam and 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. Patnaik is being branded as anti-famer, anti-poor and ant-tribal.

Today, Patnaik and his BJD are facing credibility crisis. But, where does the BJP figure in Orissa’s political map? The saffron party is back in a revival mode. Being in opposition it was using the issue of corruption in the state to pin down the BJD. The party was cashing in on the issue to gauge public mood.

Despite that, by choosing to keep mum on the large scale corruption in Orissa, BJP veteran LK Advani appeared to be siding with Naveen. It is now a big challenge for the state BJP to explain people what exactly it is up to.

“With the polls not far away, the dependency is seemingly mutual. This time both the BJP and BJD need each other for their political success. However, while it would be a strategic alliance for the BJD, for BJP it would just be a suicidal move in Orissa,” said senior political commentator Pratap Mohanty.

This is not to dispute that Advani is undoubtedly the tallest leader in BJP’s ranks. But he is not the sole voice of the party. There are number of BJP leaders who are severely critical of his move. So let’s leave the rest to time.

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