Now Naveen Needs Niranjan

Who will bell the cat? The question haunts all non-BJP political parties as a surge of saffron wave hits Odisha coast. The people in ruling BJD, opposition Congress and Left parties are busy finding ways to stop the saffron surge and prevent the lotus bloom in Odisha. 

After elections in four states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, BJP is hyperactive and focuses on Odisha, a major state in eastern India. BJP has also made its stand clear that they mean business and Odisha this time is their focus after Amit Shah putting Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur in their basket. The saffron party has virtually declared a war to capture Odisha even though the next general elections are due only in 2019.

In order to check BJP, ruling BJD which remained in power for four consecutive terms, needs to develop a foolproof strategy. Naveen, who had all along fought Congress, now needs to change strategy and ensure that Congress gained strength instead. Then who should be the suitable person in Congress to effectively counter BJP? OPCC President Prasad Harichandan has failed miserably to check BJP.

Congress Party has only 16 MLAs in the 147-Member Odisha Legislative Assembly while BJP is confined to 10 seats. The Congress Legislature Party does not see eye to eye with the OPCC. OPCC has meanwhile served show cause notice to two party MLAs as they attempted to speak against party President Prasad Harichandan and AICC-in-Charge B K Hari Prasad, following the debacle in the rural elections. The party is passing through difficult times.

The party’s poll percentage has further dipped from 26 percent to 18; senior leaders were engaged in fighting and lower rank leaders preferred to support BJP candidates in the rural polls.  Congress is in a big mess and the situation has clearly been exploited by BJP which could capture 297 Zilla Parishad seats while Congress could get only 60.

BJP as such does not have its own men in place. However, thanks to the peoples’ inclination for the saffron, the party has been able to gain its foothold in the State in a big way.
It is Congress men and women who helped BJP grow. The situation has turned so bad that there was hardly any presence of the cadre in Congress Bhavan at the Master Canteen Square while the BJD office in Forest Park and BJP State headquarters near Ram Mandir are buzzing with activities. Interestingly, street side vendors have even shifted their shops from Master Canteen Chhak to places near Ram Mandir.

On the other hand, the mobile and landline phones at the Nayapalli residence of Congress veteran and former OPCC President Niranjan Patnaik are ringing nonstop. People across the state call up Niranjan and request him to take over the reins of Congress, at least for the sake of putting the saffron surge in check in Odisha.

However, Niranjan is not sure whether he would be assigned the OPCC President post by AICC. The Congress central leadership is yet to take a review of the party’s dismal performance in the state. In political circles, a few names were being floated for the OPCC President’s post. While Niranjan is a natural frontrunner, other leaders are inconsequential. 

Niranjan is now the most preferred leader in Congress to lead the party because of his statewide network. He possesses all the ingredients required for a leader to face elections. He has men, money and media in place which need to be activated.

One can see the poll percentage of Congress has been going down by the day while it adds to BJP’s vote account. Grassroots level Congress workers have now started working for BJP as they could not find safe place in BJD. If Niranjan takes charge at this juncture, he has to ensure that the Congress cadres and vote bank remain intact.

Political observers feel that there is no better solution for BJD other than helping Congress to regain its strength across the state. If Congress can capture about 40 seats in the 2019 elections, BJP will automatically crumble; they said adding that an effective leader needs to be installed as OPCC chief. Now the ball is in Gandhis’ court.

And BJD supremo Naveen should also change his policy of maintaining equal distance from both BJP and Congress. Naveen has to maintain a soft attitude towards Congress, if he sincerely wants to keep BJP away from Odisha. The next election is likely to be a tough one for Naveen who walked smoothly all along, four times in a row.

After the three-tier panchayat elections, BJP has created an impression across the country that lotus will bloom in Odisha.  Though BJD has captured about 72 per cent of blocks and panchayats and continued to remain the single largest party in the state, BJP has become the largest beneficiary in the rural polls.

While uncertainty prevails in Congress over leadership, non-BJP party leaders are a worried lot. Against this backdrop, political circles wonder if Naveen alone can stop the saffron surge in Odisha. The younger son of legendary Biju Patnaik had done it in 2014 general elections. But now the situation has changed.

Prime Minister Narendra Bhai Modi is not soft like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Lal Krishna Advani. He is aggressive and determined to take on anybody, who comes on his way.
And his Field Marshal, Amit Shah is equally aggressive and his single-minded approach has added a number of feathers to his fledging cap by capturing Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Though BJP won the big battle in Uttar Pradesh on negative votes and due to father-son quarrel, the party has gained enormous strength and its rank and file is on Cloud 9.
Keeping such a scenario in view and the intensity of BJP’s speed, Naveen needs support of Congress and Niranjan to halt the saffron surge. A stronger Congress can help BJD retain power in 2019.

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