Why Modi’s Sweetness Is A Bitter Pill For Naveen?


Bhubaneswar: After trying hard to displace Congress and become the main opposition party in Odisha, why has the BJP seemingly started cosying up to the ruling BJD?

If political pundits are to be believed, it’s  political compulsion that has forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Co to go ‘soft’ on Naveen Patnaik with the hope that the latter would support the BJP-led NDA, of which the BJD was a part from 1998 to 2009, in case such a need arises post 2019 elections.  Going by this logic, the saffron party’s approach seems to be obvious: if you cannot beat him, better to have him on your side.

This certainly makes sense. And Modi’s not uttering a word against Naveen during his recent public rallies in Khurda, Balangir and Baripada add credence to this conjecture. But, is it just that? Or, is there more to it than meets the eye? Could it not be a well-calibrated
strategy by Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah to harm the BJD’s prospects in the forthcoming hustings?

The lay person would surely ask, “How?” Well, the answer might not be available in black and white but in the Machiavellian ways of modern politics. Which is why, Modi’s sweetness should act as a bitter pill for Naveen, whose party has been professing a policy of equidistance from Congress and the BJP since it severed its alliance with the saffron party in 2009. Because, the BJD’s rise and consolidation since its birth in 1997 has, to a good extent, been at the expense of the BJP. The anti-Congress votes, which could
have helped the BJP strengthen its base in Odisha during its ascendency in the late 1990s and the turn of the millennium, benefitted BJD a great deal due to its pact with the saffronites.

Post 2004, the BJD scripted a separate narrative keeping in view rising regional aspirations and its need to keep the Congress, which was then heading the Union government, at bay in the state. The new narrative  – central neglect – has ever since acted as BJD’s primary
weapon to effectively keep both the national parties, i.e., the Congress and the BJP, under check. Added to this, Naveen has skillfully played his cards to keep both the UPA and the NDA hopeful of getting BJD’s backing.

This, possibly, is not lost on Modi, who in the run-up to the 2019 polls has been announcing projects for Odisha and not even uttering Naveen’s name at public gatherings. Perhaps as part of this strategy, on eve of Republic Day the Modi government, instead of considering the BJD and other proponents of Odia pride years-long demand for Bharat Ratna to Naveen’s father and former Odisha CM Biju Patnaik, announced Padma Shri for Naveen’s elder sister and writer Gita Mehta. She quickly turned it down ostensibly not to fall into the BJP trap of showing Modi as the do-gooder. And by doing so, Mehta chose to keep the BJD’s USP alive.

Notwithstanding that, the BJP gameplan is apparent: upset/dilute the BJD’s central neglect narrative, leave the regional party without its most potent political ammo ahead of the polls and make the Naveen party appear tilted towards the BJP rather than the Congress.

The BJP surely understands that, if any regional party has nothing to say against the Centre, it would lose its raison d’etre. Besides, with Naveen not growing any younger it would be difficult for the BJD to build a new narrative in quick time. In which case, if the situation warrants the BJD leaders cannot side with the Congress and be compelled to lean towards the BJP. This apparently has worked to an extent and also explains AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s newfound aggression towards Naveen.

This battle plan appears to be a win-win for BJP. Come elections, Modi and Co would attempt to hardwell their ‘accomplishments’ and promises to the Odisha electorate. If it wins without attacking Naveen and succeeds in depriving the BJD of its main plank, the victory will be based on its strength, on a positive vote. If it loses in Odisha, it can expect Naveen to extend some of support to the saffron party because they were good to him during the campaign.

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