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Waiting for his due

india Updated: Aug 10, 2009 01:17 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Biju Patnaik’s errand boy, Srikant Jena, has come a long way in politics, but has only got a “double-demotion”. Srikant Jena is waiting for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep his word.

When Singh made him Minister of state, Jena had called it a “double demotion”. First because he was being downgraded; and second because his current boss, MK Azhagiri, is a first-termer both in Parliament and the Union Cabinet. Jena is a fourth-termer and has served as a Cabinet Minister in the 90's.

Unwilling to be sworn in, Jena was told things would change. He is still waiting: “Naturally” is all that he says. "Jena,” says Nalini Mohanty, former MLA, “deserves better. He is the only answer to Orissa's problems.”

In 1997, Dilip Ray, former minister, had called Jena a “renegade” and Biju Patnaik's “killer”. Ray blamed Jena for being hand-in-glove with the Congress to sideline the Orissa stalwart.

“He was instrumental in keeping Biju Patnaik out of the Cabinet,” says Biju. Janata Dal (BJD) leader Damodar Rout. Jena, along with other Janata Dal leaders, reportedly prevailed upon HD Deve Gowda, then Prime Minister, not to induct Patnaik in the Union Cabinet. It was then dubbed as a great betrayal.

Jena's take: Patnaik was excluded because there were corruption cases against him. However, after Patnaik's death, when Jena was there next to the body, but people protested. The anti-Biju tag stuck: “A back-stabber,” is how Rout put it.

Ironic given that Jena had started off as Patnaik's blue-eyed boy. Rather his errand boy in politics. When the Janata government came to power, it was Jena whom Patnaik handpicked to make calls to senior leaders on the tricky issue of Prime Ministership. Earlier, he backed him to contest the Assembly elections and Jena made his debut in 1977. In less than two years, he was made a state minister. In 1996, Deve Gowda inducted him in his Cabinet.

Born in a village in Ratnagiri in Orissa, Jena's father had nearly packed him off to Cuttack to study. This when he had himself started a school for village lads. On hearing that the owner's son would not study with commoners, the villagers quizzed his dad: “Why should our children study here when yours won't?”

Jena had to stay back but soon he headed for the elite Ravenshaw Collegiate School: Biju Patnaik was among its alumni.
As a kid, Jena attended the Congress session twice. But as a young man he dumped it to follow Patnaik who, rather than be with Indira Gandhi, floated his own Utkal Congress. Jena headed its youth wing. During the Emergency, he was jailed.

Today Jena is a Congressman, having snapped links with BJD, his parent party. Had he stayed, history would perhaps have been different. Given that Patnaik’s children were reluctant to succeed him, Jena would have been a frontrunner. In any case better off than his waiting-for-PM-to-call situation.