Jay Panda joining BJP won't harm BJD, but MP can be one more saffron face in Odisha after Dharmendra Pradhan
Although Jay Panda joining the BJP is unlikely to make much impact on the BJD's prospects in Odisha, the saffron party and the businessman are more than likely of making use of each other for their own gains.
Former BJD MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda joined the BJP on Monday in the presence of Dharmendra Pradhan and Amit Shah
He joined the BJP after 'nine months of introspection and widespread consultations with colleagues and public'
Panda had quit the BJD in May 2018 after the party accused him of anti-party activities
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has another Opposition party dissenter in its grip. This time, it's former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda, who joined the saffron unit on Monday after "nine months of introspection and widespread consultations with colleagues and public".
Panda represented the Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency in coastal Odisha till he was suspended in January 2018 for "anti-party activities", which included questioning the BJD's abysmal performance in the 2017 panchayat polls that the BJP had swept. The MP subsequently resigned from the BJD as well as the Lok Sabha in May and June, respectively, as differences with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik grew.
At a press conference on Monday, Panda wasted no time in coming down heavily on his former party: "In the early years, when it (BJD) was an ally of the BJP, there were certain norms that were followed, which were lost in recent years," he said, adding that governance under Patnaik had deteriorated sharply in recent years. He also stressed the crimes against women and children and corruption in Odisha, highlighting "disappointing sights" that the BJP can change in the state.
With Panda's induction into the party, the BJP hopes to cash in on his appeal to the youth in the coastal Odisha districts of Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur and Bhadrak. Party workers in Kendrapara, the parliamentary constituency he represented for two terms, said Panda has been a "fairly decent" MP and will be able to help the BJP win some goodwill in the important Lok Sabha seat.
Although Panda's popularity may be no match for Patnaik's in Odisha, it does give the BJP another well-known face in the state after Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan. "His popularity and connect with the Odia youth will further strengthen the surge of the BJP in Odisha," Pradhan tweeted after bringing Panda under the saffron flag.
Another BJP leader said: "He (Panda) is no mass leader, but he can still help us build our case that people are fleeing the BJD, which is now beset by corruption and lethargy."
So far, the BJP has not had much success in Odisha and has marked it as one of the priority states ahead of the elections. The Odisha Assembly elections and parliamentary elections are expected to be held simultaneously around May. The BJP hopes Panda will improve its chances in Odisha and help it gain more than just the one Lok Sabha seat it had won in the 2014 parliamentary polls.
Odisha has 21 parliamentary constituencies, of which the BJD won 20 in 2014 and the BJP only the Sundargarh seat. It is represented by Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram.
In November 2018, Oram — the only known BJP face in Odisha after Pradhan — had said that the petroleum minister would be the party's chief ministerial face for the elections. There was no formal word on Oram's remarks from the party, but Panda joining the BJP changes the equation now. He could perhaps be considered for the top post in the state so Pradhan can continue to concentrate on Central affairs.
Furthermore, the BJP also hopes to make good use of the Panda family-owned OTV channel, headed by his wife, ahead of the elections.
"With higher penetration of television in Odisha compared to say, a decade ago, he is a useful ally in the state," BJP workers in Kendrapara were quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
The BJP's wide use of media resources is an open secret, and Panda owning an influential media empire in Odisha will only work to the BJP's advantage in the state.
When he was suspended from the BJD in January 2018, political observers believed that he had lost a great opportunity to create his own political space, despite having age and the necessary funds on his side. Although his joining the BJP is unlikely to make much impact on the BJD's prospects in Odisha, the saffron party and the businessmen are more than likely of making use of each other for their own gains.
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