Reading Between Baijayant Panda’s Lines

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Bhubaneswar: After much speculation and delay, Baijayant Panda finally has the blooming lotus in his hand. The four-time MP from Kendrapara was expected to join the BJP sometime last year after he resigned from the ruling BJD as well as Lok Sabha in May and June, 2018 respectively, following a tense standoff with the regional party leadership.

When questioned by NTDV about this much-anticipated move, the former MP on Tuesday said it was just media speculation, which had even assumed that he was forming a new political party and also that talks were on with another national party.

(Speaking to www.bloombergquint.com in January, Baijayant hinted at forming a new political party or a combined coalition to unseat the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha. The combined coalition could include leaders, who were once part of the “Biju Parivaar” but sidelined by BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, he had said and mentioned Damodar Rout, Bijoy Mohapatra, Dilip Ray, among others, as the possible key figures.

There was also speculation that he would contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Kendrapara as an independent with tacit support from the Congress.)

Speaking about his former party, Baijayant said he left BJD with a lot of sadness because the party had changed very dramatically from what it had been when he had been associated with it from the beginning. He then accused BJD of sheltering the criminal and the corrupt and not acting against the ‘break down’ of law and order in Odisha.

“When I left BJD, I also quit from Parliament nine months ago and embarked on a journey where I introspected and travelled extensively in Odisha, meeting people, taking their feedback. I also had discussions with friends and colleagues of different political parties and finally came to the conviction that BJP was the right place for me to be and the leadership of Naredra Modi and party president Amit Shah was right for me to support in order to take Odisha forward,” he said.

(Odisha Bytes was the first to break the news in January 2018 that the BJD would take disciplinary action against Baijayant. The serious differences can also be traced to mid-2017 when Baijayant in an article in a leading Odia daily, called for ‘introspection’ in the wake of BJP’s impressive performance in the panchayat elections. He even questioned the BJD’s style of functioning. BJD vice president and food supplies minister S N Patro, while announcing his suspension from the party, had said Baijayant had been directly and indirectly indulging in activities aimed at weakening  the party, whether it is Parliament, state, constituency or media space. He even indicated that the former MP was unhappy with the BJD bosses since they did not push his name for the post of chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance in Lok Sabha)

When asked about the speculation that his joining the BJP, which was on expected lines, did not come earlier because he was looking at some sort of guarantee and the role he would play in Odisha politics and party, Baijayant refuted those and said the allegations were without any basis. “When the BJD was founded 22 years ago, it was done with the help and assistance from BJP and it started life as an ally of the saffron party from day one. The alliance lasted more than a dozen years and the platforms and policies were created jointly. And that is what I was entrusted to champion in Delhi. I stayed consistent to the ideology that had been worked out jointly by the BJD and the BJP. However, the regional party gradually turned away from these policies after breaking up with the BJP (in 2009) and especially in the last five years,” the industrialist-turned-politician said.

(According to The Wire, Baijayant was eyeing the chief ministerial position, which was not acceptable to party president Amit Shah. He had already appointed Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to lead the campaign in Odisha.)

The former MP said he was punished in BJD because he spoke about crime against women and children in the state. He insisted that he remained consistent to the ideologies and policies worked out by BJD and BJP as allies and it was the former which drifted away.

(Naveen’s one-time confidante-turned-rival, Baijayant had started shifting his ideological loyalty to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sangha Parivar after the 2014 general elections. As a columnist, he generously heaped praises on several policy decisions of the Modi government and was often seen hobnobbing with the right wing ‘elites’ in Delhi. His close association with the right wing camp had once made a journalist suggest on Twitter that PM Modi should appoint him to a Cabinet position. After quitting the party, he was seen attending a programme hosted by senior BJP leader Samir Dey)

Asked about his role in BJP, Baijayant said he has had discussions with the party leadership and his role will be shaped by the party, which he stressed was democratic and had certain processes in place.

“I am very happy. After my joining the party, we had an hour-long discussion with BJP leaders from Odisha and the party president. We had free and frank discussions, which was refreshing. It was a pleasure to have that kind of dialogue because I came from a party which in last five years had deteriorated so much that even when senior ministers, MPs and MLAs used to get-together, they were only read out a pre-determined decision,” he alleged.

(Baijayant is the biggest industrialist in the state. BJD stands the best chance to form the state government at the moment. His relationship with Naveen Patnaik has gone completely sour. At this time, it is crucial for him to safeguard his business interests. Allying with a central party was important for him, the opinion piece in the Wire said quoting analysts.)

BJP, he said, has a strong leadership at the top but it has a bottom-up approach where different views are taken into consideration. “I got my first taste of it yesterday. So what decision the party takes about my role, I will implement it with all my heart,” he added.

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