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All Eyes On Naveen

Bhubaneswar: Ahead of the 2019 General Elections to Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is also the founding President of Biju Janata Dal, had said that it was important to have coordination among the regional parties for strengthening cooperative federalism. Two years after Naveen’s statement, his West Bengal counterpart and All India Trinamool Congress Supremo Mamata Banerjee has launched a campaign to unite all the regional parties with the basic intention of ousting the Narendra Modi led NDA Government from power.

Mamata took this initiative after realizing that the existing principal opposition, the Congress, is in no position to face the challenges of the mighty Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine. This apart, many politicians across the country also feel that it is regional parties which have the potential to unseat Modi-Shah combine and not the Congress, which faced a crisis of leadership.

The Bengal’s Didi has also given her election winning popular call “Khela Hobe” to all the regional party chiefs. The Bengal’s Didi is now out to become India’s Didi and make the country “BJP Mukta Bharat”. Mamata, has meanwhile succeeded in her mission to a certain extent by gaining support of certain regional parties like Shiv Sena, Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Sharad Pawar’s NCP and also the DMK. She is in search of the support from YSR Congress and some other parties including Biju Janata Dal.

The support of BJD for Mamata is crucial because Odisha is the neighbor of West Bengal and both she and Naveen share many similarities. They were part of the NDA during Vajpayee-Advani era and later became foes of the rightist party, particularly after Modi-Shah combine took over the reign of the BJP, the biggest political party in the world.

Though Mamata is confident of winning friends across the country, she and her AITMC are not sure about Naveen’s support keeping in view certain instances of BJD providing open support to the NDA Government ever since BJP formed the government at the Centre. Naveen, though in the past had decried Congress as “corrupt” and the BJP as “communal” during the 2009 General Elections, later appeared to have changed his mind and thus revealing his tilt towards the right instead of going straight.

However, certain recent political developments indicate that Naveen is not fully satisfied with the saffron leadership even as the BJD had done a lot in support of the BJP. Apart from giving a Rajya Sabha seat to BJP candidate Ashiwini Vaishnaw, Naveen has also earned criticism from non-BJP and non-Congress parties, for supporting major issues of the NDA Government like that of the CAA, Demonetization and others major bills.

Even as BJD claims that Naveen takes all decisions keeping Odisha’s interest on priority, Mr.Vaishnaw’s recent announcement not to further proceed on setting up a wagon factory at Sitapalli in Naveen’s home district of Ganjam in Odisha has come as a shock for the people of the state as the announcement of cancellation of the Sitapalli project came from none other than Mr.Vaishnaw, who got elected to Rajya Sabha with the support of Naveen. Existing wagon manufacturing capacity in the country is adequate and therefore there is no proposal to set up a wagon factory at Sitapalli, he said.

Interestingly, the Sitapalli project was allocated to Odisha by Mamata Banerjee in 2011-12 when she was a Union Minister, Railways. The project was supposed to be implemented in public-private-partnership (PPP) mode and was approved in 2013. But it was delayed due to lack of sincere efforts by the railways.

It was, however, expected that Mr.Vaishaw’s induction as the Railway Minister would boost the fate of the Sitapalli project even as the then Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain in 2017 had replied to Naveen Patnaik citing difficulties in setting up the factory stating that the demand for wagons may not rise till 2024.

Shelving of Sitapalli project may be one of the factors for Naveen getting annoyed over the Modi dispensation; but will the BJD Supremo join hands with the regional parties which have been desperately attempting to get united and create an anti-Modi force across the country? As nobody is able to read Naveen’s political mind, Mamata Didi is also not sure what Odisha’s regional party head is up to. His legendary father Biju Patnaik had all along worked towards uniting people of different parties to oust Congress and he was successful on certain occasions. Now, the question arises will Naveen follow his father’s path and become a king maker?

However, the ground situation in Odisha indicated that Naveen has reasons to join hands with Mamata’s group as BJP has emerged as a formidable opponent to the regional party. As the state is all set to go for the three-tier panchayat, urban and cooperative polls in 2022, the BJD will face a tough challenge from the saffron party and there seems no change in mood of the saffron and “give back” to Naveen who has all along helped the NDA Government led by BJP.

Unsure of support from left parties and BJD, Mamata has given open options to non-BJP parties asking a question to consider who is enemy Number 1 in the state as well as in the country. Is it Mamata and her TMC or BJP? Mamata has also asked the Left parties and Congress to decide who their main adversary was. “The Congress and the CPI (M) are responsible for what has happened to them in Bengal. They have to decide who their principal enemy is. Is it the TMC? Or is it the BJP?” she asked after meeting Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in Delhi recently.

There is a brainstorming exercise among Left parties and silence in the BJD as all know that it is Naveen alone who will take the final decision and no one else in the regional outfit. Therefore, all eyes are now concentrated on Naveen’s next move. Whether the tallest leader among all the regional parties in the country will prefer to go with likeminded parties or throw his weight behind the Modi-Shah combine as he has done in the past?