All couples dread these words: “We have to talk.” On Saturday night, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik delivered a variation of these words to the BJP, dissolving an 11-year-old partnership. Coming at this last hour before election campaigning kicks off, this break-up points to the BJD cutting its losses before it goes to the polls. This is bad news for the NDA in general and the BJP in particular. If its prowess was in building coalitions with regional parties and sustaining them, the BJP is now looking more and more lonely at the not-so-top. No wonder the Congress is gleeful.
Two things can be gathered from Saturday’s talaq. One, Mr Patnaik’s decision to call it quits with the BJP was a long thought-out plan. A regional party doesn’t dump its national ally without preparing to have the requisite numbers trotted out the very next day. The fact that
Mr Patnaik isn’t leaving the door open for the BJP to think of a post-election patch-up is evident by the Chief Minister’s attempt to bring over ‘rebel’ BJP MLAs on to his ship. In their decade-long relationship, the BJP has moved from being the BJD’s window to a bigger, national-level arena to an outright liability. Apart from the fact that it has brought little to the alliance table in Orissa, the 2007 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal didn’t do the BJD’s secular credentials any good. Even before the 2008 Kandhamal civic poll results underlined that the BJP had lost popular ground, Mr Patnaik was pulling his ships away. So the issue of ‘differences over seat-sharing’ was really just a chivalrous excuse.
In the larger context, Mr Patnaik’s action suggests that the legendary Third Front may yet be making an appearance. And who knows, with the wind blowing in the right direction, fence-sitters may find something in common to hold on to after all. That the Left is already making moves towards filling the BJP’s vacuum in Bhubaneswar and that the Samajwadi Party is moving its eyes away from the Congress on to the horizon mean that there are still believers of the Third Front’s second coming. With the JDU’s H.D. Deve Gowda rousing himself from slumber, the NCP’s Sharad Pawar making encouraging sounds and BSP chief Mayawati holding the key, the BJD-BJP divorce may be a clearing of the stage for a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition that can make a serious bid for power at the Centre.