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BJD’s 20th anniversary: A ‘foundation’ the party can’t do without

The thought about the BJD’s future without Naveen Patnaik at the helm was something that would not have crossed anyone’s mind.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2017 12:24 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Bhubaneswar
BJD,BJD’s 20th anniversary,Naveen Patnaik
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik interacts with people at the Bhubaneswar railway station. BJD leaders say Naveen Patnaik does not believe in dynastic politics.(PTI)

As the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) celebrated its 20th Foundation Day through a grand function in Puri on Tuesday, the thought about the party’s future without Naveen Patnaik at the helm was something that would not have crossed anyone’s mind. And understandably so.

On several instances, party leaders, and their chief himself, have debunked media reports about the chief minister’s failing health as “propaganda created by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”.

But for leaders, and political experts, who are secretly willing to comment on a future where the BJD is “without” its current chief, all they refer to is something Naveen Patnaik has built his political legacy dismissing and rejecting: a rule of dynasty.

In their eulogy for the CM and his party on Tuesday, many leaders spoke of how Naveen Patnaik does not believe in dynastic politics, unlike other parties.

When Patnaik had ascended the throne in Odisha in 2000, Congress was reviled for being a den of dynasts, owing largely to the rule of Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, the longest serving CM of Odisha (from 1980 to 1989 and again from 1995 to 1999) before Naveen came along. But one of the biggest reasons behind Naveen Patnaik’s lasting popularity in Odisha politics, of having no dynastic successor, may also turn out to be the biggest weakness of BJD in the time to come, party leaders and political experts alike believe.

While many refute claims about Naveen’s failing health as just ‘rumours’, given more wind after his fall from the dais during the Independence Day function earlier this year, some in the party express concern, and accentuate it while talking about the BJD’s future, which they put as “uncertain” should a scenario emerge to fill in his successor.

Leaders privately say if something untoward were to happen to Patnaik, they would have to ask “someone from his family” to lead the party, just like it was done in 1997, when Biju Patnaik’s death moved many senior leaders to “plead” with the family to send a successor. While Biju’s elder son Prem and daughter Geeta demurred, the mantle fell on a reluctant Naveen. Many now believe that if Geeta still chooses to stay away from politics, then the party would have to persuade the CM’s nephew, Arun Patnaik, to lead the charge.

Political analysts believe the ‘Patnaik surname’ would keep everyone in BJD united. “In Odisha, where feudalism still holds sway, people would be happy with anyone from the Patnaik family leading them,” said Rabi Das. “Without (Naveen) Patnaik, there lies the danger of the BJD disintegrating,” a leader said.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 23:24 IST