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Naveen Patnaik: The survivor
For 17 years, Naveen Patnaik was the face of the party and the government. As he seeks re-election for a record fourth time as Orissa Chief Minister, are the chinks beginning to show? By Debabrata Mohanty.
Last month, when tickets were being distributed, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would come out of his residence, briefly read out the names of candidates and then retreat behind the doors. It was in sharp contrast to his father Biju Patnaik who mingled closely with his cadre. “In good times, Naveen could get away, but this time, the knives could be out,” said a party leader.
As the 67-year-old Naveen leads the BJD in the 2014 elections and seeks re-election for a record fourth time, this is perhaps one of the most challenging phases of his political career. If the BJD pulls it off, not only will Naveen go down in Orissa’s history as the only politician to be the chief minister four times in a row, it will also show that the Naveen magic has not waned even after a decade — his father Biju Patnaik, though far more popular, had been chief minister only twice. But this election, Naveen will have to pull out all the stops. Besides facing anti-incumbency and murmurs of rebellion and dissent, his one-time adviser Pyari Mohan Mohapatra is no longer by his side. Orissa is seeing simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. While the first phase of polling was on April 10, the next round is on April 17.
“Even with 100+ seats, he never felt comfortable in the Assembly during the last five years. If the BJD’s numbers get restricted to 90, he will be in trouble. A lower Lok Sabha tally will also reduce his leverage in national politics and expose him to further attacks should the NDA come to power,” said a senior party leader.
Opposition leaders and partymen say Naveen survived all these years because of smart votebank politics and also because there was no alternative in the state. While the Congress never recovered from its defeat in the 2000 Assembly elections, the BJP gained little from its alliance with the BJD or even after parting ways. Besides, Naveen had the right man in his team in Mohapatra.
However, their relationship turned frigid over a series of incidents, till it ended in Mohapatra’s exit. In June 2012, Naveen suspended Mohapatra, as well as a few others, from the party over an abortive coup attempt while he was away in London. Four months later, he expelled continued…