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Naveen Unlikely To Join Others

Bhubaneswar: As Leader of Opposition Jaynarayan Mishra continues non-stop attack on the Governing BJD in the Odisha Legislative Assembly, the state’s political landscape has changed. The BJD and BJP, which often face criticism that both were two sides of one coin, suddenly look in different directions.

And adding to the changed political situation, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) Supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to meet her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, who is also the President of the Governing BJD, in the last week of March. The Mamata-Naveen meeting is likely to be held on March 23.

Immediately after Naveen-Mamata meet, the state will witness another hectic political exercise as BJP stalwart and Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to undertake a one-day tour to Odisha and address a public meeting in Bhadrak district on March 26. Shri Shah’s program immediately after TMC-BJD meet at Naveen Niwas, could impact Odisha politics.

Mamata-Naveen meeting is likely to be significant as the TMC Supremo along with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, have decided to follow Odisha Chief Minister’s policy of maintaining equi-distance from both the BJP and Congress. Naveen since 2009 has been following the equi-distance though at times, the BJD supports the NDA’s policies and schemes keeping in view Odisha’s interest.

Now, ahead of the 2024 general elections, at least three regional chiefs have agreed that they need to oppose both the BJP and Congress. Though Congress is the main opposition party in the country, the oldest party has become weak in most of the states and languishes at the third position while regional parties either remain in number one or number two positions. Therefore, with general elections in the immediate future, nobody now wants to carry the liability of Congress.

The regional parties appeared to have now understood that carrying Congress language many times weakens their fight against the mighty Modi-Shah combination in Indian politics. Likewise other regional parties may also adopt Naveen’s 14-year-old formula and maintain equal distance from both the Congress and the BJP. This is because it has been tested in the past that Congress does not help other parties and go to alliance for its own interest. Now that the party has remained out of power for nine years, the oldest party has gone further weak due to lack of able leadership.

In the midst of discussion on the Mamata-Naveen meeting, questions now come to the fore whether the BJD Supremo would close ranks with the regional parties or continue to maintain its identity as it had been for decades. Earlier, Naveen had all along avoided joining the proposed Third Front and the reason was obviously the presence of Congress with other regional parties. As regional parties are now shunning their links with Congress, will Naveen join them?

This is a million dollar question as to whether Naveen will go along with other regional parties. It is another matter that ahead of the 2014 general elections, Naveen had told a national news agency that there was a need for regional parties to come close to each other. It is now not clear whether Naveen maintains that policy even today or not.

But, keeping in view the opinion of political observers who have watched Naveen since his early days, Odisha Chief Minister is unlikely to give any positive signal to Mamata when both of them meet on March 23. “It is really difficult to read minds of Naveen at this juncture whether the BJD Supremo would annoy Modi-Shah combination. He may strike a balance and may not clearly tell Mamata that he will remain with the regional parties,” a senior political analyst said.    

Sources close to Think Tank of BJD said that the Party Supremo would like to maintain his party’s separate identity instead of being identified with TMC or any other regional party. This apart, Naveen does not have any ambition in the national politics even as the BJD had been working tirelessly to win maximum Lok Sabha seats in the 2024 elections in order to have a better bargain power with the party in power at the centre.

Though Naveen’s BJD won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 elections, it aims to repeat 2014 performance, when the regional party secured 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. The BJD has made separate and elaborate strategy for the Lok Sabha segments now in hands of BJP- those are: Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Bolangir, Mayurbhanj, Sundergarh, Bargarh, Sambalpur and Kalahandi.

Similarly, the BJP central leadership has also chalked out strategy for the seats won by BJD. Those are: Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Keonjhar, Dhenkanal, Puri, Berhampur, Aska, Kandhamal and Nabarangpur. As the BJD and the BJP are eyeing for more Lok Sabha seats, the fight between the two parties is likely to be intense. Therefore, it is safe to say that both the parties can hardly afford to close ranks at this juncture. At the same time also, the BJD cannot join hands with Mamata and other regional parties as it has nothing to gain from the combination.

Senior BJD leader and Minister Pramila Mallick had made it clear that the proposed meeting between Mamata and Naveen has nothing to do with politics and it is a courtesy call as the West Bengal Chief Minister is coming to seek blessings of Lord Jagannath. An ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath, she had visited the Puri temple in 2017. Hours before the 2021 WB poll schedules were announced by the Election Commission of India, a group of priests from the 12th-century shrine in Puri had performed a yagna at Mamata’s residence in Kolkata. She is also setting up ‘Jagannathdham’ at Digha, where a massive Shree Jagannath Temple is coming up.

It is another matter whether Naveen will join other regional parties or not. But, keeping in view his modus operandi and political style, Naveen would love to maintain his separate identity instead of going with Mamata, Akhilesh and other regional party heads, strongly feel political analysts.