The political careers of two Odisha stalwarts -- chief minister and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik and his bete noire Bijay Mohapatra -- are interwoven.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik talking with the villagers at a Multipurpose Cyclone shelter at Binchanapalli of Ganjam District of Chattrapur, Odisha. (Subhendu Ghosh/HT)
Mohapatra was the most powerful non-Congress leader when Patnaik joined politics in 1997 following his father Biju Patnaik’s death. But since becoming chief minister in 2000, Patnaik’s ascendancy has been inversely proportional to the fortunes of Mohapatra, who has not been able to win a single election.
But their 14-year rivalry is notable for its sheer consistency. Every time Mohapatra contests an election, it becomes fodder for riveting political discourse in the state as Patnaik gets drawn to it.
As Mohapatra campaigns as a BJP candidate in Mahakalpada assembly constituency this time around, Patnaik leaves no stone unturned to ensure his defeat. The chief minister has repeatedly come down to Mahakalpada and its periphery, under the Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency in coastal Odisha, holding rallies and attacking Mohapatra.
On April 2 and 10, Patnaik used two rallies in Mahakalpada to describe Mohapatra as the man who “betrayed” and “backstabbed” his father. “My father couldn’t return to power in 1995 due to the betrayal and backstabbing by some of his closest colleagues. Don’t vote for those who backstabbed him,” Patnaik said.
Patnaik even played the ‘Bengali card’ to help BJD candidate and former minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak win against Mohapatra. The mandate of 30,000-odd Bengali-speaking voters, mostly immigrants from Bangladesh, is decisive in the constituency.
Mohapatra retorted, saying the chief minister was not even in politics in 1995 and didn’t know about what led to Biju-led Janata Dal government’s defeat. “I am not a betrayer. It is Patnaik who has mastered the art of betrayal and I am the first among his victims,” said Mohapatra, who was a cabinet minister in Biju Patnaik’s government from 1990 to 1995.
“It is a matter of life and death for Mohapatra and, this time, people are with him,” said local BJP leader Khirod Kumar Dash. Mohapatra has managed to garner the sympathy of a major chunk of people as a “victim” of Patnaik’s ire and due to the fact that it might be his last outing in electoral politics.
Patnaik devoting extra time to Mahakalpada has not surprised the locals. “Patnaik has done it earlier too. He will try his best to stop Mohapatra from entering the assembly,” said Akhaya Rout, a betel shop owner.