“I joined the BJD to continue my work in the development sector. If I was interested in electoral politics, I would have joined the party before the election,” says Sikta Pati, daughter of former MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who joined the ruling party in Odisha last month.
Known as the ‘Chanakya of Odisha politics’, Mohapatra was widely believed to be the principal political adviser to Naveen Patnaik since his initial days as Union Minister for Mines.
An IAS officer who was close to Biju Patnaik, Mohapatra was credited with scripting the first three electoral victories for the BJD in 2000, 2004 and 2009, and emerged as a power centre.
“Biju Patnaik used to recognise me as Pyari’s jhia (daughter). Naveen Patnaik paid his respects to my father’s body. That is all of my personal interaction with both CMs,” said Pati, 54. Things fell apart when Naveen went on his maiden foreign trip, to the UK. He heard that his adviser was allegedly hatching a coup to break the BJD and take over as CM. Naveen cracked down on the alleged conspirators, including Mohapatra. “The only thing I have to say is that my father did not hatch a conspiracy. He was caught in one,” she adds.
Mohapatra fought the 2014 elections under the banner of Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM), which he founded. The aim, BJD leaders say, was to perhaps split regional votes, win some seats and come to power in alliance with a national party.
However, the BJD won 117 of 147 seats, while OJM did not win a single seat.
Pati, who took the reins of OJM for a few days after her father’s death, says she wants to contribute to the party with her professional skills, after having worked in UNICEF and the Corporate Social Responsibility space for decades.
“For example, BJD has (health assurance scheme) Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana. The poorest of the poor in Bhubaneswar still do not know how to avail of it. I can be that bridge…” she says.
Asked whether the BJD has a future after Naveen, she says, “I will cite a business case study. For many people, the word detergent means Surf. This happens when the brand becomes the only identity of the product. Today, when people think political party in Odisha, they think BJD.”