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All Eyes on Naveen

Bhubaneswar: Come Presidential elections and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik becomes the focal point of the national politics. This is not that Naveen just cheers over being in the attention of all and sundry in the Delhi Durbar, he too faces a difficult situation while announcing his party’s decision. Therefore, Naveen makes use of a very plain and simple theory. Initially, he reiterates his old statements from previous situations. They are like: nobody has approached me so far, no thought at the moment while his party leaders prefer to leave it on Naveen saying that the Chief Minister will take the final call. Even some of them add something more: the BJD supremo takes the right decision at the right time.

When All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) Chairperson Mamata Banerjee and some others openly opposed the NDA, Naveen preferred to keep mum. For some days, Naveen neither supported nor opposed the NDA. At the same time, he also does not support the UPA or even the non-BJP and non-Congress alliance group. He makes an announcement at the last moment and there are instances when Naveen’s party says that the BJD members will reveal their cards at the voting hall itself.

However, keeping Naveen’s past track records in view, now one can say that the regional outfit will support the BJP-led NDA candidate in the race for the Raisina Hills. Politicians across the country have become acquainted with the moves made by Naveen and do not take his support for guarantee.

Ever since Naveen came to power in 1997, he has sprung many surprises in the state politics. But his moves in the national scenario are well judged by the people both in the government and the opposition.

It will not be correct to say that Naveen finds pleasure by keeping the people guessing. He has some political compulsion. As a regional party, Naveen knows it better that neither the BJP nor the Congress is going to help his state in Eastern India. Odisha used to suffer and neglected during the rules of both the Congress and the BJP. However, during the BJP regime, particularly in the time of Narendra Modi, Odisha has gained more and the reason for that is certainly not the affection of Modi towards Odisha, but for the calculated move of Naveen.

Though he maintained it as a ‘Courtesy Call’, Naveen met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 30 May. He, however, said that there was no talk on the Presidential elections at the meeting.

If a video of Naveen’s Minister Ranendra Pratap Swain is to be believed, then there should be no doubt that the BJD supremo has placed certain demands in the interest of the state before the Prime Minister. Though it was not expressed in words, Naveen’s demand ahead of the Presidential elections and BJP’s desperation for support, itself speaks that Naveen means business and wants to get something special for the state before supporting the NDA government.

Naveen and his party have time again announced that the regional party maintains equal distance from both the BJP-led NDA and the Congress-led UPA. Though he does not say anything on the alliance of non-BJP and non-Congress groups, still the BJD refrains from getting identified with them.

After reiterating his ‘equal-distance’ mantra, Naveen offered BJD’s support to Ram Nath Kovind in the 2017 Presidential elections. This apart, beginning from demonetization to ‘triple talaq’ and amendment of the MMDR Act, Naveen Patnaik has all along supported Narendra Modi government even in the face of criticism. He has supported a BJP candidate in Rajya Sabha elections in 2019.

Naveen’s action has encouraged the opposition Congress which took no time to ridicule the BJD for being hand in gloves with the BJP. “Both BJD and the BJP are two sides of one coin”, the quote has been reiterated by subsequent OPCC Presidents. Still, Naveen continues to move on his own way notwithstanding the critics, both in the state and the national politics. His policy has paid rich dividends for the regional party and himself in becoming the Chief Minister five times in a row.

Recently, senior BJP leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Naveen on the upcoming Presidential election on the day when his party BJD skipped the Opposition parties meeting convened by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to build consensus on a candidate. However, there has been no confirmation to this from the Chief Minister’s Office or BJD sources.

Even as the BJD supported NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the 2017 election, Naveen surprised political pundits and extended his MPs’ support to Opposition vice-presidential candidate Gopal Krishna Gandhi in the same year, when NDA fielded M Venkaiah Naidu for the post.

There may be a problem for Naveen if the NDA fields Naidu as its presidential candidate. This is because he has to explain to the people why Venkaiah was not accepted as the VP and supported as a Presidential candidate.   

The BJD which has nine MPs in Rajya Sabha, 12 MPs in Lok Sabha and 114 MLAs in the state assembly enjoys 2.85 per cent share of votes in the Electoral College for the coming Presidential elections.

While the NDA has 48 per cent of votes in the Electoral College, it requires outside support to the order of more than 2 per cent in order to get its candidate elected as the next President. Apart from BJD, YSR Congress Party also has 4 percent of votes and is not a member of the NDA. The YSRC has also skipped the opposition meeting like BJD.

By supporting the NDA candidate, Naveen in one way makes his party strong at the cost of the BJP. He gives a message to the public that there is no opposition party in Odisha. The state’s principal opposition party leaders also seek his votes and therefore bow before the BJD. Therefore, indirectly the message goes to the public that Naveen is supreme in Odisha and not BJP or its leaders including Union Ministers from the state. In his moves on supporting NDA or the Central government, Naveen skillfully kills the BJD’s main rival in the state politics.