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Last updated Monday, June 09, 2014

ODISHA POLITICS  
Caught between the Devil and Deep Sea  

"When whole of Odisha is still wondering if the meeting of May 30 night at the residence of BJD's (Biju Janata Dal) Rajya Sabha MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra was a coup plan against Naveen Patnaik Government, it has finally brought a golden opportunity for the Pyari dissidents who tried to get noticed by Odisha's Chief Minister and BJD Supremo Naveen Patnaik by ensuring their attendance at Naveen Niwas and condemn the meeting held by Pyari Mohan terming it as the biggest game of conspiracy in last 12 years. But, back from London to Odisha beforetime, Naveen may try to go to the roots of it. The questions weighing on Naveen’s mind would be regarding the real support base of Pyari Mohan Mohapatra. He might be ruminating - 'were all the loyalists of Pyari Mohan with him that evening'? Or, were some of them attending the loyalists’ meeting in Naveen Niwas that evening at the behest of Pyari Mohan? The initial rumour of 60 MLAs being with Pyari is fake or genuine? This would also be bothering Naveen."

 
Dr. Sasmit Patra  
   

The news headlines have declared that the key player in Odisha's present day politics and BJD’s former chief strategist Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s coup attempt to dethrone Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister of Odisha has failed. But have we considered other perspectives before closing the door on Pyari’s attempt? Is this supposed setback a part of the screenplay executed by Pyari Mohan Mohapatra? Is it possible that the script being played out for the past 48 hours is still held in the tight palms of Pyari Mohan. Would such a Machiavellian politician like Pyari Mohan parade his loyalist ministers and MLAs in full public scrutiny while angling for a split? If he was engineering a split then the meeting would have been held in the conference hall of a city hotel where his loyalists would have been holed up with adequate security, sans the media glare, till they were paraded before the Governor of Odisha with letters of support in favour of Pyari Mohan as their Chief Ministerial candidate.

 

Secondly, would a sharp political mind like Pyari Mohan, whose prediction of seats in 2009 and victory vote margin of Umerkote Bye election were clinically accurate, have taken the biggest gamble of his life and not played his cards well? I think we are in danger of being dryly simplistic if we can afford to wish away this political manoeuvre as a feeble attempt of an aging man.

First, let’s analyse the role of Naveen Patnaik at this juncture and the choices he has. He cut short his UK trip and deplored Pyari Mohan’s political stunts while in London and would have landed at Bhubaneswar by the time you are reading this article. If Naveen as the BJD supremo decides to throw out Pyari Mohan from the party citing anti-party activities, there is no one stopping him. He might also push for Pyari’s disqualification from the Rajya Sabha followed by systematic vigilance and disproportionate assets cases against Pyari with a prolonged witch-hunt. This seems rather logical, realistic and reasonable keeping in mind Indian politics.   But by doing this Naveen would have turned Pyari into a martyr and marred his squeaky clean and compassionate demeanour before the public, with less than two years left to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. He has another choice.

Naveen could keep Pyari on a tight leash and instead sack the four ministers who attended the late night meeting at Pyari Mohan’s residence on Tuesday night and demand apologies from the MLAs who attended the same meeting and then suspending a few prominent ones to drive home the message. This would ensure that Pyari would lose his flock in fear and Naveen would have driven home an advantage while ensuring that Pyari continued to look like the ‘fall guy.”

The third option Naveen has is to take disciplinary action against Pyari and all his gang of good men and a lady as in the case of minister Anjali Behera. He could bring to good use the state intelligence and vigilance network and probably exhume any incriminating files on the spotted flock and push them on their knees till 2014.

The fourth option is to keep quiet, take no action, keep the entire crowd comprising of loyalists and detractors guessing and probably call for an early election. The fifth option is to reach a compromise with Pyari Mohan and give him leverage within the party till such time that Naveen is in a position to “fix” Pyari’s political career with some backroom play.

The only problem weighing on Naveen’s mind would be regarding the real support base of Pyari Mohan. He might be ruminating - 'were all the loyalists of Pyari Mohan with him that evening'? Or, were some of them attending the loyalists’ meeting in Naveen Niwas that evening at the behest of Pyari Mohan? The initial rumour of 60 MLAs being with Pyari is fake or genuine? This would also be bothering him. Pyari had distributed about 90% tickets in the last state elections. It is entirely possible that many MLAs might be still be owing their allegiance silently towards Pyari while openly berating him in full view of the cameras, later only to dump Naveen before the Odisha Governor.

If Naveen considers the first, second and third options mentioned earlier, then he runs the risk of playing into the hands of Pyari. Creating such a huge media glare is unlike Pyari Mohan’s style of functioning. The proverbial invisible Chanakya would not have played such a high stakes hand by displaying his cards in the view of the state’s press and media. It was not by mistake but by design that the media hype was created by Pyari Mohan. Even a tenth grade student would have second guessed that such a political move would lead to stringent and immediate disciplinary action. Is it that Pyari Mohan is waiting for Naveen to pick up one of these options and thereby give the license to Pyari to split the party? No one knows for sure but again the missing chunk of Pyari loyalists attending meetings in Naveen Niwas without being singled out till now would rankle in the mind of Naveen.

The fourth option of an early election is out of question since Naveen would not be sure of the extent of organizational base which Pyari might have accrued towards himself during the past few months, post the Panchayat elections. The fifth option is also quite possible but would surely send out a signal to other silent detractors that Naveen is weak and the time to extract their pound of flesh is near and therefore lead to the emergence of a half-a-dozen wannabe Pyari Mohans. The so called loyalists of Naveen today were prohibited a few months back from entering Naveen Niwas, prominent among them Damodar Rout. Therefore to depend on those loyalists would be walking on thin ice.

Should Naveen be at all worried about Pyari Mohan’s serious stake to form the government in Odisha. Yes. He should be. Firstly as per the Anti-Defection law of India, while merger of a political party with another requires 2/3rd MLAs, a simple split requires only 1/3rd MLAs. The case in point is Jagan Mohan Reddy who has been striving for the 1/3rd status in Andhra Pradesh assembly. Coming to Pyari Mohan, if he is to split the BJD then he needs 35 MLAs from among 104 BJD MLAs. As evident from the meeting at his residence on Tuesday night, there were 30 MLAs with probably about 15 MLAs not turning up due to media glare as mentioned by Pyari Mohan. This itself would mean Pyari Mohan has the support of atleast 45 MLAs, enough numbers to engineer a split, though not to form the Government. Considering that several long time loyalists of Pyari Mohan were seen in Naveen Niwas instead of being at his residence also raises a question of their final allegiance as many owe their legislator positions today to Pyari’s backroom plays. Considering that there might be atleast fifteen such loyalists hidden among the present loyalists in Naveen Niwas, Pyari’s total number might get to 60 MLAs. It is common knowledge that Lulu Mohapatra, the firebrand Congress leader and former Working President of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee has the allegiance of 17 Congress MLAs as was evidenced during his meeting with Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad while demanding the removal of PCC President Niranjan Patnaik. It is also common knowledge that Pyari and Lulu have had a line of interaction going for long. Considering that both put their respective numbers together, it comes to 77 MLAs. Sharad Pawar and NCP have been particularly unhappy with Naveen Patnaik for proposing Sangma’s name for Presidentship of India. NCP might be inclined to support Pyari if he promises to toe their line. That takes the number to 81 MLAs, quite sufficient to form the Government considering that the majority mark is at 74 MLAs.

Now, what I have mentioned is all hypothetical. But is possible, as is always the case in politics. Naveen is essentially caught between the devil and the deep sea. If he throws out Pyari, a split in the BJD is imminent. If he retains Pyari he allows for more dissension and factionalism and provides Pyari a window of opportunity to decimate Naveen in 2014 as he did to the BJP in 2009. If Naveen calls for an early election, he might not get the numbers now. He is unsure of the actual allegiance of his loyalists and is unsure of the present consolidated position of Pyari. Therefore, while shunting Pyari might invite the Devil, keeping him on for future decision is pushing oneself to the deep sea. The heavy decision that Naveen takes in the next few days would determine his political future. The paradox is that this time he would not have his “Uncle Pyari” around to consult, instead he would have to consult his political colleagues about “Uncle Pyari.” The wheel has turned a full circle, from Biju Babu and back.

[Dr. Sasmit Patra is a faculty of Business Management at a University in Allahabad and has active interest in Odisha politics.]

 

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