Former BJD MP Jay Panda joined the BJP on Monday evening. This was the assessment of workers and leaders of the BJP: Panda’s entry is “not a game changer”, but it is “good optics” for the party as it seeks to challenge the popularity of Naveen Patnaik, who has been Chief Minister since 2000.
“He (Panda) is no mass leader, but he can help us build our case that people are fleeing the BJD, which is now beset by corruption and lethargy,” a BJP leader said.
There was no indication until late Monday evening whether — and from where — Panda would contest. In 2014, he won the Kendrapara seat by a margin of over 2 lakh votes — however, that victory was on a BJD ticket, at a seat that sent Biju Patnaik to Lok Sabha thrice, and has voted Janata and its successor parties continuously since 1977.
“Naveen gifted Panda the BJD’s safest seat in 2009 (Lok Sabha election), and the party machinery got him elected. He did well in 2014 because of the Naveen wave that saw the BJD winning 20 out of 21 seats in Odisha,” said a BJD MP.
BJP workers in Kendrapara, however, said Panda has been a “fairly decent” MP, and would be able to help the party win some goodwill in coastal Odisha. The BJP, which trails the BJD by a distance as far as party organisation is concerned, lacks well known ‘younger’ leaders in the coastal districts.
Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo recalled that in 2014, the Congress had finished second at Kendrapara, and the BJP was a distant third. “If he (Panda) contests from Kendrapara, he will harm the BJD to an extent, and will hand an advantage to the Congress.”
According to BJP workers, however, Panda stood to benefit more from the BJP than vice versa. They said that they expected him to work with “humility”, and to “not make demands” for a few years at least.