This poll season, Odisha politicians are outshining chameleons
Odisha Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik and Odisha BJP president Manmohan Samal in file photos.

This poll season, Odisha politicians are outshining chameleons

Leaders are furiously switching camps from BJD to BJP and vice-versa, egged on by what seems like rank opportunism; loyalists are left ticketless and fuming

Elections are meant to be serious affairs, with discerning voters choosing candidates carefully to decide the future trajectory of their country.

However, the run-up to the exercise in Odisha looks more like a poaching festival during a customary football transfer season, when teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool try to outwit each other by signing up each other's players for themselves.

Poaching race
Elections are still a month away – Odisha votes across four phases, from May 13 to June 1 – and no candidate has filed nomination papers as yet. However, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and its principal Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seem to be engaged in a race to poach key players from each other's camp. Each party is leaving no stone unturned to weaken the other.
This two-way traffic of defecting leaders, big and small, is fast. It's also so frequent that it is difficult to keep a count of who left and who joined which party.
But, by conservative accounts, dozens of leaders with their own retinue of followers have already left either of the two major parties in the state to join the other. More are following suit almost every day, with respective party leaders conducting grand shows to welcome the newcomers or party hoppers with a scarf, and in the case of the BJP, a scarf and a party cap.
The scale of the spectacle is farcical even for a state like Odisha that gave to India the phenomenon in politics that subsequently came to be known today as the 'Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram' politician.
It happened in 1937. After the state provincial elections, Bira Kishore Behera, an elected Congress representative from Odisha's Jajpur district, switched political sides, opening the doors to a tradition that has only gained traction since then.
Rank opportunism
The switch reeked of rank opportunism back then. It does so even now. Take for example the case of Lekha Samatsinghar, the acerbic BJP party spokesperson.
As long as she fronted for the saffron party, she spared no one in the BJD, including the party patriarch. But, one fine morning, she quit and surfaced with folded hands before a pleased-as-punch Patnaik. She has reportedly found 'inspiration' in Patnaik, and the speculation is that the BJD will field her as a candidate.
For a party that till recently boasted of being literally swamped with tens of thousands of applications from prospective candidates to contest the forthcoming twin elections – Odisha holds simultaneous polls for 21 Lok Sabha seats and its 147-member state assembly – the BJD has been exceptionally quick to reward some of the party hoppers.
Rewarding party hoppers
At least four of BJD's Lok Sabha candidates have come from the BJP – including Bhrigu Buxipatro, who received a BJD ticket to contest from the Berhampore parliamentary seat within hours of changing sides. Notably, he will take on BJP's Pradeep Panigrahi, once with BJD and a trusted lieutenant of Patnaik.
Almost in tandem, the BJP too is rewarding deserters from the BJD. Among the party's prized acquisitions has been Bhartruhari Mahtab, a six-time MP.
Just days after Mahtab – also a newspaper editor – quit the BJD, his name was announced as the BJP candidate from Cuttack. The BJP's candidate from Kalahandi, Malvika Keshari Deo of the erstwhile local royal family, was also with the BJD before she defected.
The party hoppers also include some from the Congress. Already reduced to being a marginal player in the state, the party has been further weakened with a steady exodus of leaders from the party, including Surendra Singh Bhoi and Anshuman Mohanty, who are in the electoral fray this time as BJD Lok Sabha candidates.
The showstoppers
But the showstoppers in this steady stream of party hopping in Odisha are several film stars. Denied a ticket, Anubhav Mohanty, Siddhant Mohapatra and Akash Das have ditched the BJD.
Siddhant and Akash will now contest as BJP candidates in the Assembly polls – from Digapahandi and Korei, respectively. Though not fielded as a candidate yet, Anubhav is busy proclaiming that he is very happy indeed in his new party.
Out in the cold
In this political scenario, the unhappy ones are the long-time party workers, who had nursed ambitions to contest elections and become leaders. They suddenly find themselves deprived of nominations going to those who just joined the party – that too after abusing the party leadership for so long.
Protests have broken out and workers at the grassroots level are venting their anger by holding noisy demonstrations at both the BJD and BJP offices.
Many party old-timers, such as Shreemayee Mishra of Bhubaneswar, have reasons to sulk. Tipped to be the BJD's Lok Sabha candidate, she had already begun going round the constituency canvassing. But the party ticket finally went to one Manmath Routray, who secured the nomination within two hours of joining the party.
In comparison, it took former legislator Priyadarshi Mishra three full days to leave the BJD and become the BJP candidate for Bhubaneswar North assembly seat.
In changing colours, Odisha politicians can even outshine chameleons, it seems.
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