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Monday, June 09, 2014



Vice-President Election: Naveen has to make a choice between Communalism and Opportunism


"Odisha and Naveen Patnaik were severely censured by the international community including the United States, European Union, and United Nations among others in the aftermath of the Kandhamal violence. Due to Naveen’s gross failure in containing the Kandhamal violence, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on the infamous watch list."

Dr Sasmit Patra  

BJP’s Vice Presidential candidate Jaswant Singh was being recently interviewed by Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN’s programme titled Devil’s Advocate. On being questioned by Karan Thapar as to whether Naveen Patnaik and Biju Janata Dal would support Jaswant Singh; pat came the reply from Jaswant, “Yes, I do believe that and I bank on it.” Karan persisted with another question, “Let me tell you why I'm skeptical. Naveen Patnaik broke with the BJP over Kandhamal and then won an election on his own. Why will he today reverse the message that he sent out at that time, by supporting you as Vice President?” Jaswant Singh replied, “For the same reason as both Mr Patnaik and AIADMK accepted the support of the BJP when it came to Mr Sangma's candidature.” Karan’s persistent questioning on quid pro quo expectations by BJP from Naveen Patnaik were parried by Jaswant.


The fact of the matter is that Naveen Patnaik is caught between the devil and the deep sea. On one hand if he does not support BJP’s Jaswant Singh for the Vice Presidential election on August 7, 2012 then he would be dubbed an “opportunist”, a man who without any hesitation shared space with BJP during the nomination of P.A. Sangma as candidate for the Presidential election. He did not object to the BJP’s backing of Sangma and made good of their political moolah. But when it came to reciprocating, he suffered from self-perpetuated amnesia. Therefore, shying away from supporting the BJP would be seen as an opportunistic maneuver of Naveen Patnaik.

If Naveen supports Jaswant Singh, then he aligns with the BJP, the same party whom he had termed as “communal”. He had also named the saffron affiliates like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal as organizations whose cadres were arrested prominently in the Kandhamal anti-minority violence. Odisha and Naveen Patnaik were severely censured by the international community including the United States, European Union, and United Nations among others in the aftermath of the Kandhamal violence. Due to Naveen’s gross failure in containing the Kandhamal violence, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on the infamous watch list. The European Union’s criticism led to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling Kandhamal a national shame and the international advisories against travelling to Odisha plunged the tourism industry into suspended animation. Naveen became a pariah among the New Yorkers and London-ites, the same classes with whom Naveen identified, idolized, wined and dined all his life before the quirk of fate made him the Chief Minister of Odisha. Naveen Patnaik had then stated boldly in an interview with the NDTV television channel that Bajrang Dal is a fundamentalist organization and that each bone of his body was secular. Would such a man who has restarted his international journey with a pit stop at London and an upcoming visit to United States in September risk the condemnation of fracturing his secular bones for the sake of bonding with the elements he had termed communal and fundamentalist?

If Biju Janata Dal and Naveen Patnaik decide to support Jaswant Singh, they would surely stand to benefit. The quid pro quo in this case would have been established and Naveen would have mended fences with the BJP which had been labeling Naveen’s action of divorcing BJP from the alliance in 2009 as “Viswasghaat” (treachery). It would also lead to a broader window opening for dialogue and engagement and a potential return to the NDA fold post the 2014 elections. It is common knowledge on the street that the Congress party’s numbers are set to dwindle in 2014 as it stands facing the twin dangers of corruption and inflation in its UPA-II legacy. Therefore, 2014 could well throw up surprises and rediscovering camaraderie with the BJP before 2014 elections might be the best case scenario for Naveen considering that his bÍte noire Pyari Mohan Mohapatra is still waiting to extract his pound of flesh in true Shylock-ian style and the Congress is desperately initiating last ditch efforts for unseating Naveen, albeit slowly. Naveen would also have returned the favour to BJP for having supported Sangma and Naveen would be hailed in the NDA as an honourable man, a quintessential bhadralok.

The flip side of the story is that if Naveen supports Jaswant Singh, then he also stands to lose substantially. In the 2009 elections the minority community voted for the Biju Janata Dal. Naveen Patnaik’s public posturing against the Sangh Parivar followed by his bones being secular sermon seemed to have soothed the nerves of the minority community. The miniscule minority community in Odisha, scathed and scared by the anti-minority violence of Kandhamal has become utterly suspicious and fearful of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The minority community at the grassroots has realized that if the BJP were to inch back to a more respectable position in 2014, then minorities in Odisha would continue to get a regular strong dose of fear from the BJP and its saffron affiliates like VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. More so in the western and southern districts of Odisha. The Sangh Parivar can only get emboldened if Naveen Patnaik wishes to handhold them in Odisha politics. He may not ally with them at the state but Naveen’s flirtations at Delhi with the BJP will not be lost on the minority community. It is usually misinterpreted that a miniscule minority population would not be able to influence electoral politics. Districts like Sundargarh, Bargarh, Sambalpur, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, Koraput, Gajapati, Kandhamal and Cuttack have substantial minority population to influence twenty five assembly seats and eight Lok Sabha seats. These numbers may still not stack up to much but could prove decisive in a tight contest. In the 2009 elections, out of the 147 assembly seats, 28 seats were won with margins of less than five thousand votes, a majority of them with by Biju Janata Dal. Each assembly segment with a minority population of two thousand switching allegiance from the BJD to the Congress, would lead to a gap of four thousand votes between the BJD and the Congress. In a constituency where winning margins are less than five thousand, it could be the decider. It is common knowledge that when the minorities vote, they vote in a herd, in one direction. An invisible undercurrent persists. During the Umerkote bye-elections, twenty thousand minority votes were cast in favour of the Biju Janata Dal. People associated minutely on the ground are aware of it. Twenty thousand was the vote difference between the BJD and the Congress in that election. Imagine if that twenty thousand minority vote had been cast in favour of the Congress in Umerkote. Situation seems likely if Naveen prefers to bond with the BJP supporting Jaswant Singh.

Coupled to this is a large secular vote which belongs to the civil society, from the colonies of Bhubaneswar to the dingy hutments of Mayurbhanj. It is the majority community which shuns communalism and believes in universal brotherhood. This secular vote believes in the philosophies of “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” and “Sarva Dharma Sambhava”. They too would eye Naveen suspiciously. Therefore, Naveen has a tough choice to make. If he embraces Jaswant, his projection of Sangma as a minority leader sounds deceitful. If he rejects Jaswant, he risks being alienated when the race begins in 2014 for 7, Race Course Road. If Nitish Kumar could have been considered by sections of the BJP as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate of the NDA, then why Naveen Patnaik should be shortchanged. He too could have a shot. Therefore, all the more reason for Naveen to support Jaswant. Supplemented with the veiled threats by his sulking adversary Pyarimohan Mohapatra and faced with the daunting task of a ministerial reshuffle, the pack of cards for Naveen have been readied. How deftly he plays his cards on the 7th August would determine his political stability in Odisha. He could still abstain and score a self-goal. The hands he plays from now on needs to be stacked with aces and trump cards. One card played wrongly could cost Naveen’s 2014 dreams dearly. Earlier it was Pyari playing the cards for him, now Naveen has to fend for himself. The test of his political acumen has just begun. 2014 seems innocuous enough for Naveen but could turn out to be a J.K.Rowling Harry Potter epic, replete with political Voldermorts, Dumbledores and Severus Snapes. Whether Odisha’s Harry Potter survives is a trillion rupee question.

[Dr. Sasmit Patra is a Bhubaneswar based academician and political researcher. He can be reached at]


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