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Odisha polls: Naveen Patnaik's call for postponing voting in Patkura shows his discomfort with BJP

For nineteen years and four successive terms, Naveen Patnaik has ruled Odisha. His party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) — named after his father Biju Patnaik — is widely expected to emerge as the single largest party in the 2019 Assembly election.

However, Patnaik doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the B factor. For the names of his two former associates-turned-bête noirs, start with the second letter of English alphabet: Bijoy Mohapatra and Baijayant Panda. Both are in his enemy camp Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contesting polls. It was evident all within a space of less than a week on either side of the poll.

In the last and final phase of polls on 29 April, the entire state watched keenly the high voltage tussle between BJD and Naveen’s political enemy Baijayant Panda, seeking re-election from Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat. All thought the drama ended there. They were wrong.

On 30 April, while most of the leaders, following the grueling month-long campaign in terrible heat and energy-sapping humidity, searched for a welcome breather, Patnaik, who had also extensively held roadshows and addressed rallies for his party candidates, was in New Delhi.

 Odisha polls: Naveen Patnaiks call for postponing voting in Patkura shows his discomfort with BJP

File image of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. PTI

He met the Election Commission (EC) and urged it to postpone polling in Patkura Assembly seat and withdraw the Model Code of Conduct for all the coastal districts in view of the severe cyclonic storm Fani. Polling in Patkura has been rescheduled for 19 May, following the death of the BJD nominee Bed Prakash Agarwal.

BJP knew what Patnaik exactly aiming at. So on 1 April, a BJP delegation, led by Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, met the EC  and urged it not to postpone the polls in Patkura seat — under Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat — from where its candidate Bijoy Mohapatra is contesting.

"The chief minister in his letter to the EC has mentioned that the cyclone is likely to hit Rajnagar block in Kendrapara district. This is not correct. The cyclone is likely to hit Krushna Prasad block under Brahmagiri Assembly segment, which is 150 km from Patkura," Pradhan said in a statement.

Both politicians and experts realised that Patnaik's demand for postponing the elections in Patkura was a ploy to block his longtime rival Mohapatra’s entry into the Assembly. Mohapatra, who is at the centre of this political drama, doesn’t seem to be bothered though. He has been through worse. Mohapatra said that Patnaik tried his best to postpone the election but when that failed, he went to the EC to delay it post 23 May. “It shows his mindset. I can’t imagine how someone can be so mean,” Mohapatra said in between answering calls.

He exuded confidence that both he and Panda are going to win and Patnaik is aware of that. “I have noticed from the minds of the people that they are very unhappy with Naveen’s tactics. There is a sympathy wave in favour of me. Baijayant Panda will also win,” he declared.

Mohapatra said that Patnaik is scared of him. “He is highly scared, therefore adopting such dirty politics. Naveen is just the opposite of his father and has a very small heart,” he added.

Even leaders of the Congress, BJP’s principal enemy, criticised Patnaik for such a move. They believe Patnaik is trying to scuttle Mohapatra’s attempt to get inside the Assembly, by ‘hook or crook’.

“Naveen is in the habit of playing this type of politics. He dislikes honesty and efficiency. He thinks he can play with the entire democratic system,” maintained senior Congress leader and Cuttack Lok Sabha candidate Panchanan Kanungo. “He wants people around him who ‘would remain surrendered and never raise their voice. When the state is about to face a natural calamity, the chief minister went to Delhi with his own personal agenda. This is really unfortunate,” Kanungo, who once was the finance minister in Patnaik’s cabinet, added.

Senior journalist Rajaram Satpathy, who hails from Patkura constituency itself, during his long career as a reporter has seen Kendrapara and Odisha politics closely. He too has watched political careers of Patnaik, Panda and Mohapatra, equally from close quarters.

According to him, Patnaik doesn’t like to see the rise of the Panda-Mohapatra duo. Patnaik is against Panda due to his growing popularity. Panda as a two-term MP has done quite a lot of good work and is liked by the people of Kendrapara. “Naveen is aware Mohapatra’s presence in the Assembly would create horrors for him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have forced Bed Prakash Agarwal to contest against Mohapatra,” Satpathy believed.

But the BJD leaders are not ready to accept any such argument. “Our president has always worked hard in the best interest of the state. If the BJP or others are thinking that BJD or our leader is against a particular leader, they are free to do so. It’s their problem,” said a block-level leader of the party. However, when asked about the reasons behind fielding an ailing Agarwal, he tried to avoid the question and said, “Wait. The people of Patkura will tell us in the election what is right or wrong.”

Incidentally, the entire state was baffled when Naveen announced Agarwal as BJD’s candidate for Patkura. Consider this. While Patnaik chose to give rest to many seventy plus leaders like Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik (Berhampur), Jugal Kishore Patnaik (Bhadrak), V Sugnan Kumari Deo (Kabisuryanagar) and Jogendra Behera (Loisingha), he thought it prudent to nominate the 83-year-old Agarwal.

Not only that. The veteran leader, who was fighting for life in the ICU of a leading private hospital in Bhubaneswar couldn’t come to collect his ticket for nearly a week. Incidentally, Agarwal’s wife and son had met Patnaik and pleaded that the ticket be given to someone else in the family. But Patnaik maintained silence. On the other hand, he thought it apt to give tickets to sons of Pravat Tripathy (Banki) and Pravat Biswal (Cuttack-Choudwar). Both of them served jail terms for their links in the chit fund case.

The image of Agarwal filing nominations in a wheelchair, as beamed across TV channels, shocked all, as they dreaded the obvious. Agarwal passed away on 20 April. Ironically, the BJD then nominated his widow Sabitri Agarwal.

“The voters have seen everything and they know the truth. Therefore, the sympathy wave that Naveen thought would help his party is not going to happen. Perhaps Naveen knows it and that’s why he had approached the EC to postpone the election in Patkura,” Satpathy said.

Patnaik-Mohapatra rivalry is part of the Odisha politics folklore. In the 2000 elections, Mohapatra headed the BJD’s powerful political affairs committee. He was distributing tickets. He had filed his nomination and was sure of a successful return to the Assembly for a ‘possible’ bigger role.

However, just a couple of hours before the deadline for filing nominations ended, Mohapatra, who was chairing a meeting of party leaders in Bhubaneswar, was informed of the cruel truth: someone else had filed nomination on the party’s ticket. He didn’t have the required time to even reach Kendrapara, let alone file nominations.

Since then, he experimented but remained in political wilderness.

Ironically, both Mohapatra and Panda were not only among the founding members of the BJD but they also regard Patnaik's maverick chief minister father with great respect and admiration. While the Twitter savvy, suave Panda always refers to Biju as 'uncle' for his family’s long association with the senior Patnaik, Mohapatra, who welded immense power during Biju’s rule (1990-95), can’t stop lavishing praises on him. “Biju babu was not only a great leader but also had a large heart. You rarely see such great men in Indian politics,” Mohapatra said.

Kendrapara district was known as Biju Patnaik’s karmabhoomi. The district has been loyal to the Biju family for over fifty years.

Your guide to the latest seat tally, live updates, analysis and list of winners for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 542 constituencies on counting day of the general elections.

Updated Date: May 14, 2019 16:40:14 IST