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Will Naveen Expand Ministry?

Bhubaneswar: Whenever there is a murmur in Delhi, it resounds across the country. A similar political development is now being seen in Odisha after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reshuffled and expanded his Council of Ministers. The Modi ministry’s expansion has started producing an echo in the state as the ruling party lawmakers in Odisha have started expecting a similar exercise in the state also.

This is because, the 2019 General Elections and Odisha Legislative Assembly polls were held simultaneously and also the formation of the government headed by BJD President Naveen Patnaik. Both the Modi and Patnaik governments have completed more than two years in office. When the Union Council of Ministers has already been expanded, there are sufficient reasons for the BJD lawmakers to anticipate a similar move in Odisha also.

The BJD MLAs have started lobbying for berths in the possible expansion of the Naveen Patnaik’s ministry while some of the existing Ministers have started counting their days. Some of the Ministers are apprehensive that they may be dropped as BJP’s Balasore MP Pratap Sarangi was shown the doors at the centre. Around half-a-dozen of Members in the Odisha ministry fear that they might be dropped as Naveen has started preparation for three major elections. The BJD has to face the rural and urban polls in 2021-22 before the general elections in 2024. Therefore, the next reshuffle could be the last expansion of the ministry for which nobody wants to miss the chance.

It is, however, another matter that nobody knows the mind of Naveen Patnaik. Even people close to him have all along failed to read the mind of Naveen who has sprung surprises more often than not. Keeping in view Naveen’s style of functioning, nobody is sure whether he or she will be taken into the ministry. The BJD, having about one crore members and 113 MLAs in the House of 147 Members in Odisha Legislative Assembly, in fact faces the problem of plenty. There is no dearth of experienced and seasoned politicians in the regional party.

There are many qualified people in the fold of Naveen. However, whom should he select? Whether experience will be a criterion or the region to which they belong? There are several factors based on which the Chief Minister used to pick up members for the Ministry. As about 40 per cent of the state’s voters are now young and in the below 35 age group, many believe that Naveen may prefer young faces than the seasoned politicians above 60 years of age.

He might try to give a fresh lease of life to the Ministry with younger lot. On the other hand running a government is not a child’s play and the Ministers have specific roles to contribute to the government’s success. However, keeping in view the enhanced influence of bureaucrats both in the Central and State Governments, the elected people’s representatives have limited role.

While picking up young people for the possible ministry expansion, Naveen this time may give weight to the level of education of individual lawmakers and accordingly allocate portfolios. Lawmakers with innovative ideas and managerial skills may also get preference as Naveen has been preparing for a young Council of Ministers.

While reorganizing the party, Naveen has already given a message that the senior people will be accommodated in the party by being assigned important positions like Vice Presidents and even Senior Observers of more than one district. He has appointed young Jajpur MLA Pranab Prakash Das the crucial Organizing Secretary post which is politically considered as Number Two in the regional party. The senior leaders like Debi Prasad Mishra, Saumya Ranjan Patnaik and others are given Senior Observer posts indicating that they might play a major role in the organization and not in the government.

This is because the officers are there to assist the Ministers while party positions are managed by the leaders themselves. The party functionaries receive little support from bureaucracy. However, they may get some junior leaders or MLAs to implement programs at the grass root level. However, the ultimate goal of all MLAs is to become ministers and not just party functionaries. Therefore, dissatisfaction is likely to crop up in the ruling party after the expansion of the ministry. Naveen has to be very calculative and politically correct while taking one in the ministry.    

At the same time, the Chief Minister also cannot totally ignore the veterans having experiences. Therefore, if at all Naveen goes for the expansion of his ministry, it will be like a power house of knowledge as well as experiences. Therefore, one cannot completely rule out the induction of some veteran or senior leaders.

The expansion of the ministry could re-introduce Naveen Patnaik in a different manner and boost his pro-poor image. He may also add more women in the ministry to give a message that the regional party gives importance to women. Though there are three people from Odisha in the Modi government, none of them is a woman even though Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi and Bolangir MP Sangeeta Singh Deo were mature enough to take responsibility.

Anyway, when nobody is sure about Naveen’s next course of action, the BJD leaders hope that the Ministry expansion could be a reality after the Ratha Jatra festival of Lord Jagannath and before the monsoon session of the Assembly. Many are confident that Naveen will certainly go for an expansion or reshuffle in the ministry as it appeared that he many times follows Narendra Modi. While both Modi and Patnaik mostly work in tandem so far governance is concerned, this may happen so far expansion of ministry is concerned.

Therefore, there is every likelihood that Naveen may go for expansion of his ministry, because the BJD as a political party now faces tough challenges from both the opposition like BJP and the Congress. Secondly, there is a need for refurbishing the image of the ministry as some of the members have turned controversial and easing them out before elections is essential. The ministry reshuffle is a political compulsion; and an intelligent political personality like Naveen will not dither, as he is very sharp so far political calculations are concerned.