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Defections flavour of the season in Odisha though polls are more than a year away

To bolster poll prospects, Naveen Patnaik’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is busy poaching leaders from rival parties; so is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nurturing hopes of wresting power

india Updated: Jun 23, 2017 14:20 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
HT Correspondent, Bhubaneswar
BJD,Biju Janata Dal,BJP
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik with Congress spokesperson Sulochana Das after she joined the BJD.(Arabinda Mahapatra/HT photo)

As the spokesperson of the Congress party in Odisha, Sulochana Das made her political career by criticising the state government headed by chief minister Naveen Patnaik. But earlier this week, she was all smiles and praise for Patnaik as she stood next to a bemused chief minister for a photo op on the portico of his sprawling Bhubaneswar home.

However bizarre, the volte face by Das is the flavour of the season in the state where elections are just a year and a half away.

To bolster their poll prospects, Patnaik’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is busy poaching leaders from rival parties. So is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nurturing hopes of wresting power for the first time in the state in 2019. There is barely a week when union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan – the party’s chief ministerial aspirant – is not seen welcoming ‘deserters’ from other parties into his own at public functions.

“Aya Rams Gaya Rams are in demand,” scoffed political analyst Rabi Das, referring to the unending stream of political opportunists changing sides. By the last count, the BJP has already inducted more than 100 leaders from the BJD and Congress. The BJD remains a close second, welcoming dozens of leaders primarily from the Congress.

The BJP by far remains the favoured destination of deserters. Ever since it won 297 seats in the Zilla Parishad elections earlier this year and overtook the Congress as the main opposition party, there is an expectant buzz about the BJP in Odisha.

Inducting leaders from other parties does help in projecting the right optics, creating an impression that the party is getting stronger and is poised for a strong poll showing. On Wednesday, Pradhan welcomed Gokulananda Mallik, a veteran Congress leader of Ganjam district, into the party. “We need more people like Mallik who can steer us to victory in the assembly polls,” Pradhan told party men later.

Roping in leaders from other parties will expectedly help chief minister Patnaik in dispelling doubts about his declining mass appeal. But the BJP stands to gain more from the poaching game.

“The BJP all along has been a party weak in coastal and central Odisha. It is desperately seeking to strike roots there and leaders from other parties are helping them to do that,” analyst Das explained.

Every time the BJP wins over some rival leaders, it leaves no stones unturned in making it a big event so that people take notice. The party organises ‘Mishran Parva’ (joining festival) and this month, three top BJD leaders including former BJD MP from Koraput Jayram Pangi was publicly rolled out the red carpet.

If speculations are to be believed, the party is also readying to welcome BJD MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda. The MP has reportedly had a bitter fall out with chief minister Patnaik and if he decides to cross over, he would be the biggest catch for the BJP.

The worst hit by the political poaching is the Congress. None is giving the party any realistic chance in the 2019 polls and its leaders are leaving in droves. Last week, its Nayagarh district president Lala Manoj Ray joined the BJP. “Many have realised that Congress is a sinking ship while BJD is on its way out. BJP is the natural choice,” said Sajjan Sharma, BJP spokesman.

First Published: Jun 23, 2017 14:20 IST