BJP against Naveen,so Cong prefers hands off

Keeping open its post-poll options,the Congress is set to abstain from voting in the Orissa Assembly tomorrow when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik....

D K Singh & Debabrata Mohantynew Delhi | Published: March 11, 2009 2:28 am

Keeping open its post-poll options,the Congress is set to abstain from voting in the Orissa Assembly tomorrow when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik takes a floor test after the collapse of the BJD-BJP alliance. Given the possibility of disruptions,there is apprehension about voting actually taking place but the Patnaik government looks set to sail through.

The Congress Legislature Party meeting,which met in Bhubaneswar this evening,remained inconclusive but party sources in New Delhi said that Congress MLAs would abstain from voting. “We have issued a whip to ensure the presence of all party MLAs,” CLP leader Ram Chandra Ulaka told The Indian Express. Asked whether they would vote against the government,Ulaka said: “We don’t know whether voting will take place. But whether we will vote against or abstain will be decided at the time of voting.”

Patnaik,on his part,was confident he would sail through the trust vote. “A lot of legislators will support us,” he told reporters after a BJD meeting. Party spokesman Damodar Rout claimed the number of MLAs backing the government could be as high as 80 in the 147-member House. “None of the MLAs want President’s Rule in the state. So people from BJP and Congress will support us,” Rout said.

Although the Congress is the main opposition party in the state,the party leadership’s decision to abstain from voting is attributed to the fact that the results of the trust vote would not make any material difference as Assembly election in Orissa will be held with the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress also does not want to be seen as allying with the BJP to try and dislodge the government — an argument that the Congress at the Centre often made to question the Left commitment to secularism on account of its decision to go along with the BJP in voting against the UPA government in Lok Sabha last July.

Besides,the Congress also senses an opportunity in the BJD’s break-up with the BJP and NDA. While there can be no common ground between the two parties — the BJD and Congress — at the state level where they are the main political adversaries,a political realignment at the national level cannot be completely ruled out in the event of a fractured verdict in the general election,or so the Congress thinktank believes.

Meanwhile,the BJD took heart from a mini-exodus that hit the BJP on the eve of the trust vote — among those to quit the BJP was Talcher MLA Mahesh Sahu,one of its most vocal Dalit leaders. “I have sent my resignation letter to the BJP president and the Assembly Speaker. I will vote in support of the Naveen government,” said Sahu,a known critic of BJP MP Dharmendra Pradhan. Though he was elected MLA in both the 2000 and 2004 elections on a BJP ticket,he was not made a minister — it was widely believed that some from his own party denied him a place.

Sahu,who will formally join the BJD tomorrow,is the third BJP MLA to resign within 15 days. Earlier,Brundaban Majhi and Dhaneswar Majhi had quit the party. The BJP is now left with just 29 MLAs. Former minister Bed Prakash Agarwal,BJP leader from Kendrapara,too quit the party to join the BJD.

Rout said the BJD had kept its options open on any future alliance. “We are neither part of the NDA,UPA nor Third Front. We will wait for the elections to get over and then take a call,” he said,adding that his party would treat both the Congress and BJP as political opponents in the elections. He said the BJD would support “the group which promises to protect interest of the state”.

But in Bangalore,JD(S) chief H D Deve Gowda claimed that the BJD had agreed to join the Third Front. “I have spoken to Naveen Patnaik and he has agreed to join the Third Front unconditionally,” Gowda told reporters. He said the Front was “destined” to emerge as a “force to reckon with” after the Lok Sabha elections.

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