Naveen in Catch-22

Now the choice before Patnaik is that of a choice between the deep sea and the devil.

Smitha Patnaik

Now the choice before the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) chief and Odisha`s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is that of a choice between the deep sea and the devil.

Patnaik, having burnt his fingers on the issue of PA Sangma as his most favoured candidate for President, is in a Catch 22 situation. Sailing on the enemy`s boat and pitching for Hamid Ansari as Vice President would precipitate things for the tall man of Odisha. And to toe the NDA line it would be a replication of an act of embarrassment which the NDA suffered by supporting Sangma till the 11th hour.

The NDA’s Vice Presidential candidate Jaswant Singh recently sounded his optimism as regards the support from the BJD, which can be read as a sub-text that underlines the chances of a unity between Patnaik and the NDA for 2014 polls. Though, on many occasions Patnaik has ruled out such an eventuality as remote and not possible. In an interview to a channel in Delhi, Jaswant Singh maintained the similar posture towards Naveen Patnaik. That was easy for Singh. But for Naveen, if seen in Odisha`s context, it would be like biting the bullet.

Patnaik has never minced words to show his dislike as well as political unviability to team up with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Odisha and which had become the driving force for Naveen to prove all wrong by winning the 2009 Assembly polls for his record third innings. But that was the time he was under the shadow of a good and clever political advisor like Pyarimohan Mohapatra, his erstwhile political mentor so to say, who is now his biggest enemy. This can transpire a situation where a slight political miscalculation can prove costly for the chief minister in 2014. So, Patnaik would prefer to keep some tricks up his sleeves and sound his support at the last moment, not to browbeat anyone but to make the climate of relations with the NDA very open and guessing.

In any way, it will be a tightrope walk and many political analysts have set their eyes on Naveen`s stand on Jaswant`s candidature as the vital indicator of his future course of action. Naveen, for a decade of his rule, had remained very reticent on his future steps politically.

After the ‘break-up’ with Pyarimohan Mohapatra, Naveen has turned into a talkative individual who even surprises and amuses his party colleagues who rarely had the opportunity to have a close proximity with the chief minister.

That leaves Patnaik a lonely man in this newly emerging political environment where he has to be on his stallion of popularity without any able navigator or even a friend to say the least.

Because the unity now showcased by the BJD, minus Pyarimohan, is a marriage of convenience and a shield against political uncertainty that each BJD MLA is apprehensive about. Despite the bickering and war of words with the BJP unit in Odisha, Naveen shall surely gain some electoral edge in case of a re-alliance with the saffron brigade. Which the BJP’s central command had alluded on a few occasions in the face of stiff opposition from the state unit which is not only leaderless at the moment in a way but also rudderless like the Congress party in Odisha. For that, Patnaik has to bury the hatchet and let Kandhamal stigma go down to footnotes.

But, the irony is peculiar again. The eventualities foreseen out of such a reunion can be counter-productive at the bottom level when it comes to the vote bank arithmetic in the interiors where the minority often becomes a decisive factor. Naveen might rethink on that, that the same people who stood by him after his divorce with the BJP, could be apprehensive about their future and the benefits may shift to the main opposition, the Congress party.

Regardless of the reading on the electoral front, the 2014 polls need Naveen to have some political support from the non-Congress parties and the stand of Patnaik on Jaswant is very likely to play a vital role in the new political realignment.

(The author is an academician and a freelance writer.)

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