| On a sticky wicket |
Bhubaneswar, July 21: The BJD, which is desperate to maintain equidistance from the Congress and the BJP, is caught in a dilemma over its choice for the vice-presidential candidate. Overwhelming mood in the party is to “abstain” from voting on August 7.
The stage being set for a direct contest between UPA nominee Hamid Ansari and the BJP-led NDA Jaswant Singh, the BJD appeared to be on a sticky wicket and has very little room to manoeuvre. In the presidential polls, the party had cast its lot behind former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, who also happened to be the BJP candidate.
In an apparent bid to maintain his secular image, chief minister Naveen Patnaik was harping on the fact that his party had proposed the name of Sangma first and the other parties, including the BJP, extended their support to him later. In the vice-presidential polls, the BJD cannot afford to support the Congress, its principal adversary in the state politics. At the same time, any support to the BJP candidate runs the risk of denting the secular image of the party, which Naveen has been assiduously cultivating ever since he parted ways with the BJP in 2009 following the Kandhamal violence.
Confusion continued to prevail in the party and senior leaders expect the chief minister, who is in New Delhi, to take a decision in a day or two. However, most of the leaders privately admit that Naveen has limited options. The state has 31 MPs (21 in the Lok Sabha and 10 in the Rajya Sabha) and the BJD has 21 members (14 in the Lok Sabha and seven in the Rajya Sabha).
Sources in the party said Naveen was consulting various leaders at the Centre and the state and his decision was expected in a couple of days.
BJD’s Rajya Sabha member Baishnab Parida said: “We are in a tight spot. We can’t support the Congress nominee, Hamid Ansari, because of obvious political reasons. It’s equally tough to go along with the BJP.” In Parida’s view the party, “has two options before it — either to vote for BJP’s Jaswant Singh or abstain from voting”.
During Naveen’s interaction with his MLAs, sources said a sizeable group had suggested that the party should abstain from voting.
Another Rajya Sabha member of the BJD Sashi Bhusan Behera said: “The chief minister has had consultations with a few members on this issue. The emerging situation is totally new to us. Whatever decision Naveen takes, we will abide by it.”
Admitting that it was a tough call for the party, former Union minister and BJD’s leader in the Lok Sabha Arjun Charan Sethi said: “We will meet the chief minister after he returns from New Delhi and discuss the issue. Naveenji will share his thinking. After that whatever he decides, we will abide by it.”
The BJD leaders also argue that having waged an open war with the Congress on the issue of the Centre’s neglect of Odisha, the BJD cannot be seen as aligning with the Congress under any circumstances. The chief minister’s antipathy for the Congress also became clear when he openly accused former finance minister and presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee of showing undue favour to certain states.
Similarly, the chief minister enjoyed a good relationship with the central BJP leadership, including L.K. Advani.