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Odisha: Biju book release function may have larger political significance

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik may use his father Biju’s legacy to create a bulwark of anti-BJP forces in the state in run up to next year’s assembly elections.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2018 13:05 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Odisha,Biju Patnaik,Book release

A guest list that includes a former President, a former Prime Minister, an ex-deputy PM, a Marxist leader and a dissident BJP politician for the launch of a pictorial biography of the late Biju Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on Saturday has sparked speculations about chief minister Naveen Patnaik anti-BJP strategy ahead of next year’s assembly poll.

Among those invited are former President Pranab Mukherjee, former PM Deve Gowda, ex-deputy PM LK Advani and CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

The BJD insists that the release of the book “The Tall Man Biju Patnaik” written by noted researcher Sundar Ganesan and published by Biju Patnaik Birth Centenary Committee is just an event where the former CM’s contemporaries would mark their presence. But senior party leaders pointed out to the political significance of presence of Advani and CPI on the same platform.

“Many of them were contemporaries of Biju Patnaik, who was more of a statesman than politician. It’s nothing unusual for them to turn up at book release event,” said senior BJD leader AU Singh Deo.

But other BJD leaders feel the event is an attempt to create a bulwark of anti-BJP forces using the Biju legacy to checkmate a likely resurgence of BJP before next year’s assembly polls. The BJP which is riding high on its success in panchayat polls last year is getting aggressive after party chief Amit Shah unveiled the Mission 120 campaign (winning 120 of the 147 assembly seats) in September 2017.

“The chief minister probably wants the BJP to know that if necessary he can be part of an anti-BJP coalition before next year’s polls and at the same time be in a position to bargain if the BJP falls short of majority,” said a BJD leader requesting anonymity.

Others in the party feel that Naveen Patnaik could leverage the book release function to limit any possible damage to his image after he ordered the suspension of BJD Lok Sabha MP Baijayant Panda two days ago. The well-networked Panda is widely believed to be biding his time before joining the BJP.

“Though Naveen had stepped out of his father’s shadow almost a decade ago, his invoking Biju legacy could be a strategy to counter Panda in Kendrapara Lok Sabha where Biju Patnaik is still an icon,” said political analyst Rabi Das.

A canny Patnaik has also sent an invitation to dissident BJP leader Bijoy Mahapatra to attend the book release function. Mahapatra, who was unceremoniously denied a party ticket in 2000 assembly election, is highly critical of the BJP’s CM hopeful and Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and may serve Patnaik in more than one way. If Patnaik gets Mahapatra to join the BJD he would deal a blow to BJP in Odisha while checkmating Baijayant Panda in Kendrapara, where Mahapatra is a significant player.

While invoking Biju legacy, Patnaik has quietly aligned himself anti-RSS forces in the State. Early this month, he attended a function where 50000 students sang Vande Mataram and Vande Utkala Janani in Bhubaneswar organised by Bharatiya Siksha Vikash Sansthan, a breakaway RSS group that runs around 1000 schools.

Last year, Odisha’s school and mass education department ordered free supply of text books to these schools which was viewed as the government promoting the schools as a parallel to the Saraswati Shishu Mandir network of the RSS.

First Published: Jan 27, 2018 11:52 IST