Patnaik initially said the party will nominate Ashwini Baishnab, a former IAS officer from Odisha who was private secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he was the Prime Minister. The Chief Minister said Baishnab has “served Odisha very well”.
The BJP’s official account also tweeted: “The party has decided that Shri Ashwini Baishnab will be Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for the upcoming bypolls to the Rajya Sabha from Odisha.”
While the announcements led to a confusion on party membership of Baishnab, Patnaik clarified, “I think there was some confusion about Ashwini Baishnab. The PM spoke to me, as did the Home Minister. We will support the candidature of Baishnab”. The two BJD candidates for Rajya Sabha are the party’s IT cell head and former Principal AG of Odisha Amar Patnaik, and party spokesperson Sasmit Patra.
Senior BJD leaders expressed “surprise” over Baishnab’s “joint nomination”. A party leader, requesting anonymity, said, “We have many senior leaders who had been promised Rajya Sabha seats by the CM because they were not given Lok Sabha or Assembly election tickets. But their cooperation helped us win those seats. It is not clear why we are throwing away a seat.”
With 112 out 146 seats in the state Assembly, the BJD is expected to comfortably win all three Rajya Sabha seats. Citing its strength of 23 MLAs, BJP’s Odisha unit had previously admitted to journalists that it is “not in a position to elect someone to Rajya Sabha”.
Stating that the “cat is out of the bag,” senior Congress leader Narasingh Mishra told The Indian Express, “The same choice of Rajya Sabha candidate, along with BJD’s support for one-nation, one-poll, clearly proves what our party had been saying in the run up to the elections. The BJD and BJP have always had a secret understanding. In critical moments, they support one another. In public, they abuse each other”.