Naveen Patnaik's tightrope walk: BJD chief uses presidential, vice-presidential polls to keep both sides happy

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who supported NDA's candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election held on Monday, has done a surprising volte-face, opting to side with the joint Opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi for the vice-presidential election, due for 5 August.

"The Biju Janata Dal will support Sri Gopalkrishna Gandhi," is all the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief would reveal to the media on Wednesday when asked to elaborate on his choice.

Patnaik had in 2012 said Gandhi was an "old and valued friend. We were friends even when I was not in politics".

File image of Naveen Patnaik. PTI

File image of Naveen Patnaik. PTI

Considering the presidential and vice-presidential polls were both through a system of secret ballot and parties cannot be found issuing whips to their MPs and MLAs, it does raise two key questions — why did Patnaik announce his choice, and more importantly, why did he support candidates of rival camps for the two elections?

BJD parliamentary party spokesman Kalikesh Singhdeo appeared to be answering this question, when he said, "Patnaik has proved that the BJD has been maintaining equal distance from the Congress and the BJP."

Indeed, it does appear that Patnaik is trying to walk a tightrope, without appearing to be too close to either the NDA camp or to the Opposition. Considering the long strides the BJP has made in Odisha in recent times and the saffron camp's rising profile appearing attractive to voters, it may be a calculated move on Patnaik's part to remain close to both sets of political leaders and parties.

According to a report in The Times of India, the BJD's parliamentary group was told at the last minute, barely half an hour before NDA's Venkaiah Naidu was to file his nomination papers. The report did appear to confirm the theory that BJD was picking rival candidates to ensure it wasn't seen as being too close to one camp, which may hurt the party's prospects in the state. The party had supported the NDA government in Parliament on several issues and legislations.

However, BJD sources insisted the cases were different.

Kovind quit his party membership before becoming Bihar governor and conducted himself in an exemplary manner thereafter. He also hails from the weaker sections and has worked his way up from the grassroots. On the other hand, BJD leaders said, Naidu was a party man and a member of the cabinet till his nomination was announced by BJP. It was also felt Gandhi would be seen as a more non-partisan choice for the constitutional position, the copy said.

The announcement has made a lot of people within his BJD camp very happy, especially since party leaders were said to be feeling "uncomfortable" with Patnaik over his increasing bonhomie with the saffron alliance.

BJD's Dhenkanal MP Tathagat Satpathy tweeted in favour of the choice

BJD parliamentary party spokesman Kalikesh Singhdeo said, "Patnaik has proved that the BJD has been maintaining equal distance from the Congress and the BJP."

The BJP, which was actively courting BJD's support for the vice-presidential elections after having seen the party's backing for the presidential election, was in for a disappointment. It later accused the party of having a "tacit deal" with Congress.

"Patnaik has supported Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who signed the mercy plea of terror convict Yakub Memon. The support of BJD to a Congress candidate shows a tacit deal between them," said state BJP president Basanta Panda.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 19, 2017 21:09 PM

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