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Phone call upsets ‘coup’

Bhubaneswar, May 30: A phone call from chief minister Naveen Patnaik to BJD rebel leader Pyari Mohan Mohapatra changed the situation in the state capital, thick as it was with rumours of a possible coup.

The call Naveen made from Rome on Tuesday evening in the wake of a meeting of BJD MLAs at Mohapatra’s residence apparently made the Rajya Sabha member change his plans, if any, of upstaging the chief minister.

Mohapatra said: “Patnaik asked me about the meeting. I told him everything and asked him not to cut short his foreign visit. However, he told me that he was reaching Bhubaneswar soon.”

Naveen told PTI in London: “I understand that in my absence an MP of my party is stirring trouble against my state government and also trying to divide the Biju Janata Dal. This is deplorable. I am in London on official government work. I will be returning to Bhubaneswar shortly.” The chief minister is expected here tomorrow.

The political atmosphere in the state capital was surcharged in the wake of last evening’s seven-hour meeting of MLAs at Mohapatra’s residence. Today, the scene shifted to Naveen Nivas, the residence of the chief minister, where 84 BJD MLAs, including ministers, gathered to discuss their future course of action.

Sources said the attempted coup failed because Mohapatra and his supporters could not muster the numbers for effecting a split. In the 147-member Assembly, BJD has a strength of 104, BJP-six, NCP- four, CPI-one, Congress-27 and five independents. Whereas Mohapatra requires two-thirds of the party strength to effect a split, even by his own claims there were only 33 MLAs present at his residence while another 13 could not enter because of the media presence.

Sources, however, said that apart from three ministers — Sarada Nayak, Anjali Behera and Sanjeev Sahu — almost all the other MLAs who went to Mohapatra’s residence last night had changed tracks by this morning. They marked this by their presence at Naveen Nivas, outside the gates of which a large crowd of curious onlookers had gathered.

Considering the fact that Mohapatra had handpicked most of the BJD’s candidates and had formulated the constituency-wise poll strategy during the 2009 polls, his loyalists were confident that over 60 MLAs would ditch Naveen. Besides, Mohapatra, who had been calling the shots in the organisation until recently, had always been accessible to party leaders, unlike Naveen whose interaction with the MLAs and the ministers had been minimal. The danger of being marginalised in the party for being Mohapatra loyalists had brought the dissidents together. However, many MLAs developed cold feet because of the immense popularity that Naveen enjoys among the electorate.

Even Mohapatra today appeared to be on the defensive, having toned down his aggression. Apparently realising that he did not have the numbers, Mohapatra said: “I never wanted a split in the party. However, the party has developed complacency. The MLAs came to vent their frustration. The organisation is not being looked after the way it should be. There is a sense of complacency. They (including the ministers) are not being well-treated by the bureaucrats.”

Mohapatra said he had told Naveen everything. “However, he has been misled and is coming back from the UK curtailing his scheduled programme,” he said. He said he had no ambitions of becoming chief minister.

The MLAs and ministers who had attended the meeting at Mohapatra’s house also rushed to Naveen Nivas to express their loyalty. Many of Naveen’s supporters cheered “Naveen babu” and expressed their anger against Mohapatra by burning his effigies.

Despite the scorching heat, a large crowd of people gathered to show their solidarity with Naveen.

The meeting of the MLAs at Naveen Nivas began at 9.30am and was continuing till the time of reporting.

Around 84 MLAs had rushed to Naveen Nivas. However, the ministers — Sanjeeb Sahu, Anjali Behera and Sarada Nayak — who had attended last night’s meeting at Mohapatra’s house, skipped the Naveen Nivas meeting. “As Naveen is not here, I have decided not to go there. Naveen is our leader,” said Behera.

Archrival of Mohapatra, former agriculture minister Damodor Rout said: “As Mohapatra has accepted Naveen as leader and said there was no threat to leadership, everything has become normal.”

Finance minister and BJD vice president Prafulla Ghadei tried to calm the tempers of the people gathered at Naveen Nivas. “There is no threat to his leadership. Naveen is the only leader in the party,” Ghadei maintained. All the MLAs gathered were asked to sign a resolution reiterating their faith in Naveen’s leadership.