Odisha Diary: An unravelling NDA alliance and a jittery post-poll scenario

The BJP has made it virtually impossible for the BJD to remain in the NDA. If the BJP fails to secure a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha, it can no longer take the BJD’s support for granted

Naveen Patnaik and V.K. Pandian (photo: @bjd_odisha/X)
Naveen Patnaik and V.K. Pandian (photo: @bjd_odisha/X)

Ashutosh Mishra

The stepped-up attack by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his Man Friday, bureaucrat-turned-politician V.K. Pandian, is fuelling speculation of a political witch-hunt likely to be launched against Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders in case the BJP-led NDA manages to secure a third term at the Centre.

Political analyst Sabita Mohanty says, “Given the kind of vitriolic campaign the two parties have engaged in, the chances of a patch-up between them after the results appear remote, irrespective of who wins. The politics of vendetta may take centre-stage.”

On one hand, the BJP has made it virtually impossible for the BJD to remain in the NDA. On the other hand, the threat of a witch-hunt may be used to arm-twist the BJD to stay on. If the BJP fails to secure a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha, it can no longer take the BJD’s support for granted.

In the 2019 general election, the BJD had bagged 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP eight and the Congress one. In 2014, the BJP won just one seat while the Naveen Patnaikled BJD secured all the rest.

In 2024, the BJP is making a concerted bid to increase its tally in Odisha to compensate for losses elsewhere, which explains its downand- dirty campaign in the state.

The buzz among the people is that a government led by Modi and Shah could rake up the multi-crore mining scam and the Ponzi scandal that hit the state between 2012 and 2014—the latter resulting in the arrest of senior BJD leaders including two MLAs who were denied tickets in 2019.

In an interview to a local news channel during one of his recent visits to the state, Amit Shah stated that the BJP’s manifesto clearly mentioned that people duped by the Ponzi companies will get their money back within one-and-ahalf years, and “those involved in the chit fund scam will go to jail”.

Chit fund firms allegedly collected around Rs 4,600 crore from people across Odisha. In May 2014, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe into the Saradha group and 44 other chit fund firms for purportedly taking investors for a ride.

The CBI arrested Banki MLA Prabhat Tripathy, Mayurbhanj MP Ramachandra Hansda and former MLA Subarna Naik for their suspected involvement. The BJD suspended all of them.

In 2017, another sitting BJD MLA, Pravat Biswal, was taken into custody by the CBI. Three years later, the CBI raided the house of senior party leader and former minister Debi Prasad Mishra in connection with the scam. With chief minister Naveen Patnaik developing friendly relations with PM Modi and the BJD supporting the BJP-led NDA on several crucial issues in Parliament, the situation eased up.

Today, however, chances of the CBI renewing its probe in the post-poll scenario are not being ruled out. BJP leaders and foot soldiers are equally keen to see the regional party ‘thoroughly exposed’.

“It is ironical that a party whose senior leaders are steeped in corruption is seeking votes by promising to end corruption in the state. Once our party government comes to power, all scam-tainted BJD leaders would face the music,” averred Panchanan Patra, a young BJP convert who was among those gathered outside party headquarters in Bhubaneswar to welcome Modi as he commenced his road show on 10 May.

The mining scam that broke in 2009 and ran into several thousand crores could also be leveraged against the Patnaik-led BJD if the BJP manages to form a government at the Centre again. Scathing criticism of state officials by the Justice M.B. Shah commission of inquiry set up to probe the ‘loot’ of Odisha’s mineral wealth forced the government to act.

Show cause notices were issued to over 100 miners involved in illegal mining and a penalty of around Rs 68,000 crore was imposed. The Opposition called this eyewash and kept demanding a CBI inquiry to which the Supreme Court did not agree.

Addressing rallies in Angul and Cuttack on 20 May, the prime minister rubbished the BJD’s claim of development in the state saying that the party had given Odisha “nothing except land mafia, sand mafia, coal mafia and mining mafia”.

Taking a dig at Pandian, who hails from Tamil Nadu, Modi said, “People are saying that the key (to the treasury room in Jagannath Temple) has gone to Tamil Nadu. Who has taken it? The people will not forgive this. I assure you the mystery will be resolved. Those involved in cheating and fraud will not be spared. This is Modi’s guarantee.”

Shah, too, has been targeting Pandian. “This assembly election is an election to uphold Odisha’s pride. Can a Tamil babu rule Odisha?” he asked during a rally in Keonjhar, before going on to assure people that the BJP would give Odisha a young chief minister who spoke Odia fluently.

Pandian retorted by describing BJP’s star campaigners in Odisha as “political tourists” who can’t even identify the state capital, an oblique reference to the PM’s jibe about Pandian not being able to name Odisha’s districts and capitals.

A ‘slip of the tongue’ from the BJP’s national spokesperson and its Puri Lok Sabha candidate Sambit Patra has given the BJD further fodder. Addressing media persons on the occasion of the PM’s roadshow in Puri on 20 May, Patra described Lord Jagannath as Modi’s “bhakt” (devotee) instead of the other way round.

Later, he expressed his regret for the faux pas and said he would do penance by fasting for three days. Pandian had a better suggestion: that he take care of himself and eat properly! “Three days before the election (due on 25 May), he should not faint. He is a doctor, he should know what to do,” said Pandian.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, posted his critique on X: ‘Mahaprabhu Shree Jagannatha is the Lord of the Universe. Calling Mahaprabhu a bhakt of another human being is an insult to the Lord... it is totally condemnable. This has hurt the sentiments and demeaned the faith of crores of Jagannatha bhaktas and Odias across the world.’

As the campaign reaches a crescendo in the state, things are likely to heat up further. The relationship between one-time allies can only go from bad to worse, indicating dramatic changes in the post-poll political equation.

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