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Odisha: What next for Pyari Mohapatra, Naveen’s ex Man Friday?

Sandeep Sahu

Bhubaneswar: The inevitable has happened. Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, Naveen Patnaik’s erstwhile Man Friday who had lately turned his tormentor-in-chief, has been sacked from the party he once lorded over, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

Not many eyebrows were raised when the denouement came on Friday. After all, Mohapatra had been upping his ante against the BJD boss with each passing day, going to the extent of saying that Naveen had ceased to be party president in 2010. Delay in acting tough with the one-time party margadarshak, already under suspension for leading a coup against Naveen on 29 May this year, was proving counter-productive. Given this backdrop, it was not really difficult to guess what was on the menu when the party decided to convene the meeting of the party’s state executive committee, after a gap of nearly three years, on Friday.

Naveen Patnaik. Reuters

So, where does Mohapatra go from here? “To the 27 lakh workers of the Biju Janata Dal and the four crore people of Odisha,” said the bureaucrat turned politician soon after his expulsion was announced. But do the BJD workers and the people of the state really care? Going by the evidence so far, the answer has to be an emphatic ‘No’. He has been railing against Naveen Patnaik and crying himself hoarse about the absence of ‘internal democracy’ in the ruling party for over five months now without managing to win over a single leader of substance to his side.

If anything, it is Naveen who has managed to win over those who sided with him on that fateful evening on 29 May, including the two MLAs suspended along with Mohapatra: Prabhat Biswal and Bibhuti Balabantaray. For a man who is believed to have been the sole arbiter in ticket distribution during the last election in 2009, Mohapatra does not have a single MLA or MP on his side. Even the three ministers sacked by Naveen for their proximity to him and their role in plotting the coup – Anjali Behera, Sanjib Sahoo and Sarada Nayak – have kept a safe distance from him.

But the man who is fond of calling himself ‘Karmi (Worker) No 1’ is hopeful that he would get a better deal from the karmis of the party. That is why Odisha Jana Mancha (OJM), the outfit launched by Mohapatra in September, is planning a series of four rallies in the four corners of the state, the first of them in Kalahandi on November 19. For a new outfit, OJM managed to assemble a reasonably good crowd at the Kranti Samavesh in Bhubaneswar on October 28, though it is debatable how many of them were actually BJD workers. But it is the fate of the rallies at the district level rallies that would really indicate the extent of support the Rajya Sabha member has in the party.

The reason Pyari’s tirade against the Odisha Chief Minister does not have too many takers is that he has been beating about the bush rather than taking the bull by the horns. While the Congress and the BJP have been trying to pin Naveen down on a host of scams, it is Pyari who was in a position to administer the most telling blow to Naveen’s carefully cultivated image and rip apart the veneer of ‘Mr. Clean’ that has won him three successive mandates.

Having been the advisor-in-chief to Naveen for nearly a decade, Pyari must have been privy to some of the dirty secrets of the party and its president. But he has not come out with one revelation that would send Naveen scurrying for cover. He has been willing to bark, but not prepared to bite. Union Minister Srikant Jena, in fact, has done a far better job than him when it comes to taking some of the sheen off Naveen.

The one possible reason that has forced Mohapatra to stop short of nailing Naveen and his government is that he has a few skeletons in his cupboard too. Many of his alleged investments and benami transactions are reportedly under the scanner now. Going hammer and tongs at Naveen on the mining scam at this stage could boomerang on him because the coup that he planned against Naveen is widely believed to have been funded by a group of mine owners that has fallen from favour of late.

By all accounts, Mohapatra is a brilliant strategist who revels in plotting moves and counter-moves to foil the designs of rivals. But he is certainly not a mass leader who can sway people. When it comes to drawing crowds, he is no match for Naveen despite the latter’s laboured, Roman-scripted Odia. Not many of the leaders and workers of BJD would want to side with Pyari, especially with election due in the next year and half, since they know that it is Naveen who can bring in the votes, not Pyari. His OJM can, at best, be an also-ran and not a serious contender for power. It will have some nuisance value in some areas, but that is just about all.

What then is the realistic option for Mohapatra? The most obvious answer is: having some kind of an arrangement with the Congress for the time being, may be even joining it in future to stay relevant. Not too many people take him at face value when Mohapatra says he has been against the Congress all his life. And there is a reason for this. More than a dozen Congress MLAs, led by Lalatendu ‘Lulu’ Mohapatra, had reportedly pledged their support to him if he managed to get the numbers in his coup bid on May 29.

Joining the BJP is not an option since it is Pyari who is suspected to have been behind the decision to sever ties with the saffron party barely weeks before the last Assembly elections. In any case, the BJP would hardly welcome Mohapatra into its fold at a time when it is wooing Naveen Patnaik for a possible revival of its alliance with the BJD ahead of the 2014 elections.

If Mohapatra does not have any understanding, tacit or otherwise, with either of these two parties, he could well walk into the sunset unmourned.