BJD after Naveen-Pyari divorce

Even as BJD copes with a post-Pyari chapter, the party stands dazed in Odisha.

By Saswat Panigrahi | Updated: Jun 18, 2012, 13:57 PM IST

Saswat Panigrahi

It was a case of ambition going astray. After his May 29 failed coup to dislodge Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik , it was natural that only reprisal awaited Pyari Mohan Mohapatra. Patnaik generally known for his dithering decisions, for a change took no time in suspending his ‘advisor’.

Today, Mohapatra, who once virtually ruled the state de-facto, is a forlorn man with his so called supporters deserting him like a flock of birds returning home to Patnaik`s camp. Such has been the anger against his ‘audacity’ that people have been openly demanding more stringent action against Mohapatra. Meanwhile, Patnaik is busy trying to purge all the Mohapatra loyalists from his party Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

Beimaan’ (traitor) was the word Patnaik used for Mohapatra after the failed coup attempt.

Even as the BJD copes with a post-Pyari chapter, the party stands dazed in Odisha, gripped by a fear of another attempt at dislodging the government. Patnaik is seemingly haunted by the fear of the unknown despite a huge sympathy wave in his favour, largely fuelled by the foolish attempt by Mohapatra to topple him from the hot seat when he was away in UK – incidentally this was Naveen’s first visit abroad in 12 years.

A taste of own medicine

It all started one hot and humid evening when some 30 BJD MLAs, including four senior ministers suddenly flocked to Mohapatra`s A/111, Sahid Nagar residence on May 29. The legislators were asked to put their signatures on paper to choose him as the new leader of the BJD Legislature Party.

Mohapatra had reportedly sought an appointment with the Governor for the next day to stake claim to form the government. But Mohapatra’s plan came be a cropper as he failed to muster the desired numbers to topple the government in Odisha.

On hearing the news, a stunned and panic-stricken Naveen Patnaik made a dash back to Bhubaneswar by cutting shot his London trip and suspended the coup plotter and Mohapatra finally got a taste of his own medicine.
Naveen shoots a sharp shooter

Naveen took no time in denouncing Pyari Mohan Mohapatra as a ‘back stabber’. But let’s not forget that Mohapatra has a history of demolishing his political opponents by pursuing dirty politics, without batting an eyelid.

In the year 2000 Naveen Patnaik sacked BJD founder Bijoy Mohapatra from the party on the advice of Pyari Mohan. Two years later, Naveen withdrew another BJD founder Dilip Ray first from the federal government and subsequently axed him from the party under Pyari Mohan’s influence.

Between October 2008 and March 2009, Pyari Mohan launched a covert operation to convert BJP’s organisational base into BJD’s organisational structure. He ensured that all BJP units in saffron strongholds of the state either transfer their loyalty to BJD or be closed by employing resourceful measures. Observers have not forgotten Mohapatra’s meticulously planned move to dump the saffron party just ahead of the 2009 polls after over a decade-long coalition.

In his twelve-year-long regime, Naveen Patnaik sacked as many as 26 ministers, thanks to Mohapatra.

Naveen’s ex-Man Friday

Pyari Mohan Mohapatra (Pyari babu, Pyari, PM or Uncle as he is popularly known as) is a career bureaucrat, who served as the principal secretary to then chief minister Biju Patnaik between 1990 and 1994.

A 1963-batch former IAS officer, Mohapatra entered politics in 1999, when he joined the BJD as a primary member, two years after the party was formed. Soon he became Naveen’s Man Friday. Patnaik started consulting Mohapatra over every matter of politics and governance.

In 2004, Patnaik sent Mohapatra to the Rajya Sabha on a BJD ticket. By that time Mohapatra had acquired a larger-than-life stature in the party and in the government.

Though he held no important party post, Mohapatra was the first among the equals. He used to decide how the party and government must run. Such was his importance and clout that ministers and bureaucrats used to make a beeline to seek his instructions. Without his nod nothing could move in the BJD or in Odisha. Mohapatra started a unique system of governance in which ministers used to report to secretaries (IAS officers). In fact there was a joke doing rounds in the state - ‘PM’ is in charge of the state, not the CM.
How the romance went cold?

However, for a while now the Naveen-Pyari romance had gone cold. A crack in their relationship surfaced when Naveen declared the candidature of Pyari’s bête noir Ranendra Pratap Swain for Athgarh Assembly by-poll in February this year. Remember, Swain was disqualified during the 2009 Assembly polls following non-submission of his ‘original’ party ticket. It was Mohapatra, who played a key role in the events that led to Swain’s disqualification.

Naveen snubbed Mohapatra again when he campaigned alone in the Panchayat polls in February.

The split between the two leaders widened further when Patnaik announced the names of three Rajya Sabha candidates in March without consulting Mohapatra.

Finally, their bond ended with a failed coup bid by Mohapatra followed by his suspension.

A vulnerable BJD

Naveen Patnaik’s government might have survived for now. But this is the beginning of a grand battle ahead.

Another political landmine is waiting to explode, when Patnaik will reshuffle his cabinet and axe a few other ministers loyal to Pyari.

It is a fact that a sizable number of BJD MLAs are Pyari Mohan’s own men. While Mohapatra is waiting for an opportunity to strike back, Patnaik may be taking the risk of considering his foes as his friends.

It is no secret that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik hardly interacts with his MLAs. So Mohapatra is not wrong when he says that the CM can’t even recall the names of his own MLAs. In such a situation, can Naveen maintain his grip over the party and the government?

According to a senior political commentator Pratap Mohanty, “BJD was not created by Naveen Patnaik or Pyari Mohan. It was Bijoy Mohapatra who did it. Both Naveen and Pyari tried to appropriate the party. While Pyari has failed, Naveen is becoming weak by the day.”

There is no doubt that the Naveen-Pyari fight has left the BJD vulnerable. With a mission to split the party having failed, now Mohapatra will either launch his own party or join the Congress. In both the cases he will certainly eat into BJD’s support base.

Also, Pyari’s inevitable exit from the BJD might lead to some new political equations. However, this may not be much of an advantage for the BJD.

With Patnaik’s clean image blown to pieces by a series of scams lately, come 2014 BJD will face the battle of its lifetime. Will the party survive or simply wither away?