Naveen Patnaik declares 4 names for Odisha RS polls, will need BJP’s help to win all
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday announced names of 4 party candidates including a trade union leader, a Muslim leader and an OBC woman for the 4 Rajya Sabha seats from the state going to polls this month.
One seat fell vacant in May last year and 3 seats would be falling vacant on April 2 with the completion of tenure of Ranjib Biswal of the Congress party, Narendra Swain and Sarojini Hembram of the BJD.
Patnaik announced the name of Mamata Mahanta, an OBC leader, Munna Khan, a Muslim, trade union leader Subash Singh and technocrat Sujeet Kumar for the four Rajya Sabha seats; the polls to which would be held on March 26. The nomination of Mahanta, a woman leader from the OBC section is seen as Patnaik’s attempt to curry favour with the OBCs as well as revive the party’s fortune in tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district where the BJP outshone BJD in last year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Similarly, the nomination of Munna Khan, nephew of late Congress leader from Nabarangpur district, Habibulla Khan is being seen as an attempt to placate the Muslim community after BJD supported the Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament. Though Patnaik has stressed that Muslims have nothing to fear from CAA and his party would never support NRC in future, there have been protests against CAA by the minority community across the state.
Subas Singh, though a lightweight trade union leader from Cuttack, has been a Naveen Patnaik loyalist and worked hard to get the vote of the construction workers in the urban areas. Singh is also seen as close to Panchayati Raj minister Pratap Jena, a highly influential minister. The fourth nominee, Sujeet Kumar, a graduate from Oxford University and Harvard University and part of the BJD’s thinktank, currently serves as the advisor of the Special Development Council in the state government.
Unlike last year, when Patnaik conceded one of the 3 Rajya Sabha seats to BJP, this time the announcement of the 4 names much ahead of the nomination process has triggered speculations of the BJD chief trying to force BJP’s hands for a deal.
BJP leader Pradipta Naik, who is Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly said the party’s parliamentary board would soon take a decision on whether to nominate someone for the RS polls.
“If BJP announces a candidate of its own, there would surely be a contest for the 4th seat as BJD would fall short of 6 votes to reach the magic mark of 30 votes to get through. It would be interesting to see whether Patnaik would prefer a contest or opt for a consensus candidate propped up by BJP,” said political science professor, Prabhat Mohanty.
In the 147-member Odisha Assembly, BJD has 113 members followed by BJP with 23. Congress has 9, while CPM has 1. There is one independent MLA.
In the event of Congress deciding to abstain, the magic mark would be 28. BJD would still need the support of the CPM and independent MLAs and cross-voting by at least 2 from BJP to get its 4th candidate through.
Mohanty said by announcing all the names, Patnaik may be setting terms for a deal with BJP. “If BJD manages to get the nod for the 49-member Legislative Council in lieu of one Rajya Sabha seat for BJP, it would be a good deal. For the BJD top brass, a Legislative Council would allow it to accommodate several disgruntled elements who could not make it to Rajya Sabha,” said Mohanty.
There is also intense speculation over the possibility of hotelier and former union minister Dilip Ray trying his luck as an independent candidate. Ray was rumoured to join BJD ahead of last year’s polls, but the deal came unstuck as he insisted on getting his long-time friend Bijoy Mohapatra along with him. Ray’s candidature may make the race for the 4th seat a close one in case BJP decides to support him.