Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday got the first taste of a direct challenge from within the Biju Janata Dal to his 12-year uninterrupted reign.
Though the gauntlet was thrown down by suspended BJD Rajya Sabha member Pyarimohan Mohapatra at a rally in the state capital, thousands of disgruntled party workers turned up.
“Reject Patnaik who ceases to be the BJD president as per constitution of the party,” Mohapatra said in his first public show of strength following his suspension in June for allegedly trying to stage a coup against the CM.
Mohapatra, a former bureaucrat who advised the CM and was seen to be extremely powerful, described Patnaik as inefficient and undemocratic at the Kranti Samabesh (revolutionary rally) held under the banner of his new front, the Odisha Jana Morcha.
The BJD’s ministers and MLAs stayed away from the rally, but party sources admitted some leaders had encouraged activists from their areas to rally around Mohapatra, whose alleged coup plot came to light in May when the CM was abroad.
Mohapatra, who was suspended along with two MLAs and several ministers by Patnaik, has denied charges of having tried to dethrone the CM.
The strong turnout at the rally came despite reports of attempts by the government to prevent Mohapatra backers from reaching the venue.
Health minister Damodar Rout, however, dismissed the reports and said no one was stopped from attending the rally.