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Odisha chief minister's health scare has spawned a question for BJD: Who after Naveen Patnaik?

Bhubaneswar: Last Thursday, WhatsApp messages about Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's ill health and a possible liver transplant at a hospital abroad took most people in the state by shock. The message also furthered the assumption of the portal — from which the news had emanated — about an internal tussle among party members to wield power as interim chief minister during the period of Naveen's treatment. The news was brushed aside as fake, with none other than the chief minister — not otherwise believed to be media-savvy — immediately clarifying that he was fit and fine. So be it. The 'fake' news, has however, sounded a wake-up call in and outside the party about "Who after Naveen?"

Of late, Naveen's body language at meetings and public gatherings makes it amply evident the chief minister isn't in the best of health, although the leader himself and members of the BJD have maintained all is well. This is obvious as they do not want the message to reach the masses, because the party that came to power owing its allegiance to the legendary Biju Patnaik, rode on the shoulders of Naveen to win the first term and then went on register a phenomenal four consecutive terms. Even the recent rural polls results, where the party lost many of its seats, was attributed to the failure of Naveen to reach the nooks and crannies of the state owing to health issues. The fear, what and who after Naveen, lurks blatantly in the minds of all, considering the precedent Jayalalithaa's ill health followed by her death, had set.

File image of Naveen Patnaik. PTI

File image of Naveen Patnaik. PTI

No doubt, no one in the party has the power and image to get into Naveen's shows, let alone Bijubabu's, but there is no unity in the party — something that is clear from the internal bickering simmering in every coterie, around the search for the next leader. Like every regional party in the country, the BJD too, has not groomed anyone who can take the position of leading the party and then the state. Senior BJD leaders like Damodar Rout have always been outspoken and drawn flak from members for their likes and dislikes while the younger lot, some considered close to the chief minister, do not have the charisma that can take them beyond their own constituency to form a collective opinion.

As it is, regional parties in the country have come into being with the motivation of one person in all cases, but went on to challenge the national parties, gathering popular electoral support. But none of them, whether AIADMK, Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP, JD(U) or the BJD has chosen the right successor or successors in place to handle exigency. So the one leader who forms the party with massive public support takes upon himself or herself the sole responsibility of the party. In some cases, although family members claim the berth, that too is out of question for the likes of Naveen, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee or even Kejriwal. Which is why the parties sustain themselves through the life span of the leaders, and in all likelihood will be fragmented after the end of the leader unless a successor is chosen by the leader when things are normal.

The BSP's Kanshi Ram has been the only one who had named Mayawati as his successor much before his departure. But the question "Who after Mayawati?" remains unanswered. And there are the likes of Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in Uttar Pradesh, the SAD in Punjab, Devi Lal's Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana — all of which have no certainty about the successors to carry the party forward. What happened to Tamil Nadu's AIADMK after Jayalalithaa must be considered a bad precedent on successorship for regional parties. The same apprehensions hold good for West Bengal's TMC, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) respectively.

It's time regional parties grow from being one-man/woman entities to being multiple leader-driven. So the onus lies on the leader of the party to build one or two more leaders in the party so that the masses can repose faith in a few people for their conviction and zeal to work. Most importantly, the process of transferring power to successors can only be done when the party is in a strong position and for the BJD in Odisha, Naveen still has time to make the move first to let people know the strength of the party, avoid disintegration in case of exigency and ensure that Bijubabu's legacy continues through the BJD even after he ceases to exist.

Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 16:45 PM

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