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After Naveen who?

Bhubaneswar: “The BJD has definite plans on my succession”, this one line statement of Odisha’s five-time Chief Minister and BJD President has set the speculation engines booming even though politicians were oblivious of the issue. Naveen made this statement in an interview with a national magazine. This single-liner has whipped up the rumour mill to find an answer to the all-important question, “After Naveen who?”.

Though Naveen, a bachelor, avers that the people of Odisha will choose his successor, his recent statement has added sufficient fuel to the speculation. He has categorically said that the BJD has a “definite plan” on this.

Interestingly, none in the ruling party, senior ministers included, have any clue to the “Plan” of the Chief Minister. He has not revealed anything in the matter. The people in the regional party have no inkling if Naveen’s successor will emerge from within the party or, from his family or from outside the arena of politics.

In regard to Naveen’s family, he has an elder brother and a sister, who are too old enough to jump into the fold of politics to run the ruling party and the government. Though Naveen’s nephew and his brother Prem Patnaik’s son is young enough, the people of Odisha have not seen him. Naveen’s nephew and grandson of legendary Biju Patnaik was once seen on television when he along with his father and other family members came down to the state during handing over of Biju Patnaik’s ancestral house in Cuttack.

With no children to pass his wealth and fortune on, speculations are rife as to who will finally take over Naveen’s chair to carry forward his grand legacy. Legendary Leader Biju Patnaik during his lifetime had never allowed any member of his family to enter politics, either in Odisha or at the national level. Naveen came to Odisha only after the demise of his father on April 17, 1997, and became the state’s Chief Minister in 2000. He will complete 23 years at the helm in March 2023.

However, one thing is now clear that Naveen has started looking for someone who will succeed him in politics and also in the state. According to Naveen, BJD is a vibrant party with over one crore members. However, he did not indicate anybody from within the party to succeed him.

However, ahead of the 2019 elections, Naveen had clearly said, “The people of Odisha will decide who will succeed him. The successor will be from BJD and not from my family.” He had further stated that the BJD was not a political party and it was not even dependent on him or others for its survival and growth.

Probably keeping his plan in mind, Naveen has been distancing himself from party programmes for which he did not attend the party workshops despite being available in the city. Naveen also did not go for campaigning in two previous assembly by-polls at Pipili and Brajrajnagar.

Many people in the party also witnessed that BJD’s general secretary (organization) Pranab Prakash Das has been taking lead in party programmes and he also chaired the party’s training programme for youths and students at Baramunda ground recently. This apart, Mr.Das is also leading the party in the Dhamnagar by-elections while Naveen is attending investors meet in Hyderabad to attract investments to the state.

However, the manner in which the BJD fielded the chairperson of the Tihidi block, Abanti Das, for Dhamnagar by-poll, questions are raised whether Naveen will hand over the baton to any woman, mostly to the members of Mission Shakti.

Naveen has already reserved 50 per cent seats for women in rural and panchayat elections and also distributed 30 percent Lok Sabha election tickets to women in 2019. One should not wonder if Naveen allotted 50 per cent of the party ticket to women in the ensuing Assembly elections in the state.

If women constitute 50 per cent of the BJD’s MLAs, then it will not be out of place for a woman to be the successor of the BJD Supremo.

With Senior BJD leader and Minister Naba Kishore Das advocating for women leadership in the state, and some others echoing this sentiment, it appeared that the BJD people may not oppose the idea of supporting a woman as their leader.

Though Pranab Prakash Das is often projected as the “Number Two” in the party, nobody knows he too may be replaced by Women Self Help Group Leadership, pointed out a senior leader adding that none could read Naveen’s mind during his 22 years of regime in Odisha.

The people in politics including those in the opposition also admit that the women are the strength of Naveen and they actually ensured five consecutive victories of the BJD government in the state. Therefore, Naveen may decide to handover the baton to some woman as he picked up a WSHG member from Aska in Ganjam district Pramila Bisoyi to become a Lok Sabha MP.

It is interesting to note that usually Naveen Patnaik likes to talk to those who like them. Recently he is meeting Women SHG Members more frequently. Like RSS is the backbone of BJP, now it seems WSHG is the internal strength of the governing party. The Department of Mission Shakti has taken WSHG to the next level and they are gaining huge strength and great influence in the political arena. Naturally BJD insiders feel Mission Shakti may provide the alternative.

Party insiders, however, say that the present situation will continue as it is. A fit and blooming Naveen is moving with full spirit to attract investments for the state. And as usual he will seek votes in the next elections and ensure victory of the party. Some changes may be seen only after a BJD Government is installed for the sixth consecutive time. Naveen is likely to create history and thereafter only time will tell.

However, the party leaders are confused, and discuss whether the lucky person to succeed Naveen to inherit the BJD empire would be a woman. Confusion still persists and people across the state are eager to know what Naveen’s succession plan is, and who will succeed him and when. “But nobody can read Naveen Patnaik mind”, rued a BJD veteran.