Odisha: Why BJP ditched Naveen Patnaik to fight solo in LS and assembly polls?
The BJP top leadership in Delhi changed its course on realising that the party stands to lose in the long run if it ties up with BJD's Naveen Patnaik, seen in picture with his trusted aide VK Pandian

Odisha: Why BJP ditched Naveen Patnaik to fight solo in LS and assembly polls?

What prompted the BJP to ditch talks with BJD in the final hours, leaving Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's party literally high and dry?

Finally, it was a case of so close and yet so far. After having spent weeks and months in furtive backroom negotiations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday, March 22, formally stepped back from stitching together what would have been a rather strange electoral alliance with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), it's principal opposition in Odisha.

BJP Odisha president Manmohan Samal ended the frenetic speculations finally when he posted on social media platform X that the party would contest all 21 Parliamentary and 147 assembly seats in the state, when simultaneous elections are held in the coming months.
A travesty foiled
Make no mistake: it was the BJP that decided to ditch the talks in the final hours, leaving Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's party literally high and dry.
Though initially driven by the belief that an alliance would benefit the BJP by strengthening a pan-India perception in favour of the NDA and help in adding further momentum to its ambitious push for 400- plus Lok Sabha seats, it's top leadership changed course on realising that the party stood to lose far more in the long run than what it hoped to gain in the immediate future.
For one, an alliance between a state's ruling party and its principal Opposition with little or no parallel anywhere else would have gone down in history as a travesty and a cringeworthy template to subvert popular will even by current dwindling standards of political morality. State leaders of the BJP - reluctant to share their fiefdoms and areas of influence - too were opposed to the move primarily spearheaded in Delhi by the Union railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw alongside Patnaik's trusted aide and BJD second-in-command VK Pandian.
BJD-BJP bonhomie
BJD was counting on Vaishnaw to repay the favour extended to him only last month. Though the BJP did not have the numerical strength in the assembly to elect its candidate to the Rajya Sabha, the BJD extended support once the BJP fielded Vaishnaw and got him re-elected on the ground that he would help improve Odisha's railway infrastructure.
In rooting for a candidate of a rival party, the BJD gave no explanations as to whether there was any guarantee that Vaishnaw would continue as the railway minister if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be re-elected and forms a new cabinet in some two months' time. What happens if Vaishnaw is not made a minister again, or gets another portfolio were questions that were left unanswered.
No matter the awkwardness, Patnaik and Pandian had reposed their faith in the bonhomie between the BJP and BJD.
The secretive arrangement that made them strange bedfellows served both sides well. With the BJD supporting almost all legislative measures of the Modi government in the Parliament - from demonetisation to scrapping of Article 370 - it was smooth sailing for the ruling combine in Delhi. In Odisha too, the clandestine understanding allowed Patnaik a smooth reign, minus central agencies such as the CBI and ED in customary hot pursuit.
For BJD's advantage
The top BJD duo of Patnaik and Pandian were seeking an extension of the same 'insurance' for an equally smooth run for at least the next 2-3 years by sealing a tie-up with the BJP.
Though clearly the favourite to be re-elected for a sixth straight term, Patnaik's popularity has somewhat slipped in recent years, from 78 percent to 52 percent, according to a trustworthy survey by a prominent media house. A declining popularity could mean less number of seats in the state assembly than the previous time. It would also mean more seats for an emboldened BJP that could attempt an adventure to unsettle the state government in the near future.
The ruling BJD is mortified by the possibility of BJP winning anywhere between 45-50 assembly seats - almost double of its tally the last time round. That would leave the principal Opposition party in Odisha within somewhat striking distance of the half-way mark in the house - a not-so-wide gap that the BJP could attempt to bridge at a time of its choice by using the vast resources at its command.
Besides averting such a possibility, Patnaik was eyeing an 'insurance' for Pandian too. Though anointed the successor, the bureaucrat turned politician has been facing rough weather in finding popular acceptance. A non-Odia - Pandian is Tamil - and viewed many as an outsider being forced upon the state, the going can get infinitely tougher if the BJP is to target him with all its might.
Taming the BJP
So long, BJP's opposition to Pandian and its attempt to exploit his 'outsider' tag have been half-hearted. Its state leaders have been circumspect in criticising the BJD number two, keeping in view the cordial relationship the top two in the BJD enjoyed with the BJP central leadership. A formal electoral pact would have immensely helped Patnaik and Pandian in taming the BJP and reining its leaders from going into a full-blown offensive.
Going by the 2019 polls, the two parties commanded more than 70 per cent of the votes. That's a very formidable combination which the BJD intended to exploit for its short-term gain and extend its stay in the saddle despite running the risk of being swallowed up by the BJP at some later point.
BJP's long-term strategy
Sadly, the top BJP leadership took a long-term view. For once, the state BJP leaders managed to convince the central leaders that the party's showing would improve this time — both in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly — propelled by the perceived upsurge in Modi's popularity and the incremental increase in anti-incumbency against Patnaik.
Though they may not unseat Patnaik, they sounded confident of being in a comfortable pole position from which they can catapult to power soon. The BJP central leadership fell for it, casting Patnaik aside so as not to compromise the party's projected upward trajectory in the state, and for protecting the morale of its workers.
Known to outwit rivals, it was Patnaik's turn to be outwitted squarely this time. Though reportedly upset about being ditched, he can do little at the moment.
Even in the future, he may still have to extend numerical support to Modi in the Parliament if the need be. After all, an aging chief minister can ill afford to invite the wrath of a powerful prime minister elected thrice.
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