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Cards close to chest and fingers crossed
- Naveen in line to make history

Bhubaneswar, May 15: Naveen Patnaik, the socialite writer-turned-politician, stands poised on the cusp of history.

If his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) crosses the magic mark of 74 Assembly seats tomorrow, as is widely expected, he would become the first chief minister of Odisha to win four back-to-back terms in office.

In 2009, he set a record, that of winning three consecutive terms, bettering his predecessor, veteran J.B. Patnaik, whom the Congress has put to pasture with a stint in the Raj Bhavan of Assam. J.B. as the octogenarian leader is known in the political circles, was the first chief minister of the state to serve three terms, but they were not on the trot.

Naveen, who made a reluctant entry into politics nearly 17 years ago following his father Biju Patnaik’s death, has doubtless been the most successful politician of the state. Even better than his father, who took nearly three decades to occupy the chief minister’s chair for the second time after a short first stint in the 60s!

But favourable predictions notwithstanding, there is a considerable anxiety in the BJD camp on the eve of announcement of results. After all, a fourth term does not come easy, and this time, apart from faux pas in ticket distribution, the party also had to deal with the anti-incumbency factor with a raft of scams and scandals throwing up a formidable challenge.

The two major Opposition parties, the Congress and the BJP, played up the multi-crore mining scam and the deposit collection scandal insinuating, among other things, the involvement of the chief minister himself. The Congress, in particular, also sought to foreground the issue of state government allegedly suppressing the full quota of subsidised rice being provided by the Centre.

It was a bitter campaign, occasionally turning personal, as in Mahakalpada, where the chief minister accused the BJP candidate, Bijoy Mohapatra of backstabbing his father, Biju Patnaik, in the 90s. The chief minister also kept up his anti-Congress tirade during the entire campaign for the 147 Assembly and 21 Lok Sabha seats, the party going it alone for the first time since 2009 when its alliance with the BJP snapped.

Though BJD veterans such as Rajya Sabha member and chief minister’s confidant, Kalpataru Das, hope that the party would better its 2009 performance when it won 103 Assembly and 14 Lok Sabha seats, others are not as confident.

There is a grudging admission about Modi factor having revived the BJP, which had looked moribund before the announcement of elections. “The BJP may get a few Lok Sabha seats and is certain to improve upon its Assembly performance of 2009 when it could manage just six seats. However, we will still have enough Assembly seats to form the government,” said a senior BJD leader refusing to engage in the number game.

The Lok Sabha tally of the BJD would be of equal significance to the fortunes of the regional party. Political grapevine has been set abuzz following the chief minister’s back-to-back visits to Delhi, but Naveen is keeping his cards close to the chest.

That Congress is trying to woo him is obvious from the recent statements of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh praising Naveen’s secular credentials. BJD sources said BJP central leaders, too, were keen to revive their ties with the Odisha chief minister.

On the face of it, the BJD continues to maintain its policy of equal distance from the Congress and the BJP and, for the moment, is also keeping aloof from the leaders and parties advocating a Third Front. “But, you never know in politics. Things change within the span of days,” said a ruling party leader.

While the Congress is being given by internal dissension with its state chief, Jaydev Jena, engaged in a tug of war with his rivals, the mood in the BJP is upbeat. The saffron party not only is optimistic about its Lok Sabha and Assembly tally going up, but also is talking in terms of forming the government. State BJP president K.V. Singh Deo has predicted a split in the ruling party following the announcement of results that, he thinks, would pave the way for the formation of a BJP government with the help of the BJD splinter group.

While that may seem like tall talk, a few doubt that BJP will better its 2009 performance. The general consensus is that with BJP making deep inroads into its votebank, the BJD’s tally will go down significantly, but it would still manage enough to form the government. The biggest loser then would be the Congress which, having missed out on a splendid opportunity to trip the BJD, may lose its main Opposition party tag to the BJP. For the moment, however, they are all keeping their fingers crossed.


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