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Surveys prove a double-edged sword for Naveen Patnaik
Priya Ranjan Sahu, Hindustan Times
Bhubaneswar, March 11, 2014
First Published: 12:21 IST(11/3/2014)
Last Updated: 12:29 IST(11/3/2014)

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had been on a survey spree — keeping tabs on his ministers and MLAs and drawing up his candidate list for Lok Sabha and assembly polls. But he perhaps overdid it. The latest survey indicates that if he acts on the first — all his plans may just go haywire.

As the head of the government and the Biju Janata Dal, Patnaik’s authority was unchallenged. Now, his position suddenly appears precarious — with a number of partymen, getting wind of the hush-hush surveys and a possible plan to deny them tickets, a rebellion cannot be ruled out.

It all started with an intelligence survey done over a year ago. The idea was to gauge public mood and take stock of BJD’s position on the ground level. The results were a total shock. One-third of party’s 108 MLAs and 14 MPs were found to have become hugely unpopular in their areas.

A hasty damage-control plan was drawn up, which included projecting the government’s pro-poor image, attracting leaders of opposition parties to BJD and fielding fresh faces in elections.

In January 2013, the government announced a series of “welfare measures” — cheap rice, free cycles, laptops, financial aid for pregnant women and for cremation. It worked — the party practically swept the municipal polls.

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Then, a few months ago, Patnaik undertook a second survey. Bureaucrats were asked to send lists of possible candidates to replace the sitting MLAs and MPs — the criterion being clean image and winnability. Patnaik even managed to rope in leaders from the Congress and the BJP, the prize catch being leader of Opposition in assembly, Congress’ Bhupinder Singh, who joined the BJD on Saturday.

“All these manoeuvrings made partymen, including senior ministers, very uncomfortable,” said a party leader. Anticipating denial of tickets, panicky leaders drew up action plans that involved joining other parties or backstabbing the official candidates.

And then, the survey bug bit Patnaik again. A recent internal survey by the government found chances of last-minute rebellion were high, especially from three-term MLAs, who were resourceful in terms of finance and cadre strength.

It poured cold water on Patnaik’s overhaul plan. On Thursday, BJD vice-president Kalpataru Das announced that most faces would be repeated, as they fulfill the party’s criteria of “winnability, credibility and crime-free image”.


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