With Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik showing little signs of hurrying up with seat-sharing talks,the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Orissa may have to settle for fewer seats than it fought in the 2004 Assembly elections in alliance with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
Bolstered by its winning performance in the panchayat polls,as well as the Cuttack and Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (MC) elections,the BJD is now staking claim to at least 100 Assembly seats,an increase of 16 seats from its previous share. In the last Assembly election,the BJP fought 63 of the 147 seats,while the BJD took the remaining 84. The BJP won 33 seats while the BJD bagged 61.
The BJD upping the ante on Assembly seats is also partly fuelled by its saffron partner’s
role in the aftermath of the Kandhamal riots last year,including the Orissa bandh threat demanding the arrest of the murderers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. The tag of allying with the ‘rioters of Kandhamal’ is the last thing that secular Naveen Patnaik wants.
BJD leaders back their demand for 100 seats with numbers from the recent Municipal Corporation elections. In February’s election to the Cuttack Municipal Corporation,held by the BJP for last 10 years,the BJD won 37 of the 54 wards,while the BJP was reduced to a humiliating two. In the civic polls of Baripada town,as well,the BJD did well cornering 14 of the 28 seats.
Having pushed the BJP to the wall,Naveen is now adopting dilatory tactics on seat-sharing discussions. In the last coordination committee meeting between the BJD and BJP last week,BJP leaders stuck to their demand of 63 seats,while second-rung BJD
leaders like Raghunath Mohanty and Kalindi Behera parroted what Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra had told them to do — demand at least 95-100 seats. Though the BJP’s interlocutor Chandan Mitra has flown to Bhubaneswar as L K Advani’s messenger twice to mediate with BJD,it has made no dent in the BJD’s stance.
Though the coordination committee meeting between the two parties was supposed to be held on February 21,it is now likely to be postponed until next month as Naveen is mourning his mother’s death.
“The more he delays discussing seat-sharing,the more he would keep BJP leaders on tenterhooks. Since elections are set to be announced in March,that would leave little time for BJP for to prepare itself. They would have no other option but to accept whatever seats Naveen thinks fit,” said a senior BJD leader requesting anonymity.
Meanwhile,BJP state president Suresh Pujari said the ratio would not be changed.
“We are equal partners,” he told The Indian Express. But behind the tough posturing lies plenty of anxiety,with BJP leaders privately acknowledging that they are at Naveen’s mercy. Although the BJP would like to important seats like Dhenkanal parliamentary constituency and the Assembly seats of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar,the ball is in Naveen’s
court. “We have been rendered useless. These coordination committee meetings between BJD and BJP leaders in Bhubaneswar are for public and media consumption. The final seat sharing ratio will be decided by Naveen and Advaniji,” said a senior BJP leader.