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Naveen signals neutrality rethink

Naveen Patnaik at South Block on Monday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha

New Delhi, June 2: Naveen Patnaik today expressed readiness to play a “constructive” role for the NDA in the Rajya Sabha, suggesting he could be rethinking his stand of maintaining “equidistance” from the Congress and the BJP.

The Odisha chief minister also described as “positive” Narendra Modi’s response to the state’s issues during a meeting with the Prime Minister today.

“We will play a constructive role. We hope the government fulfils the just demands of Odisha,” Naveen said when asked what role his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) would play in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA is short of numbers and needs the help of other parties to pass bills.

Naveen had earlier said that his party had not discussed whether to extend support to the NDA.

Asked after today’s talks if he thought the NDA government would be more helpful to Odisha than the Congress-led UPA regime, Naveen said: “I hope so. The Prime Minister gave a positive response to our issues.”

The comments came against the backdrop of a buzz that the BJD may provide issue-based support to the NDA and amid speculation around Jayalalithaa’s meeting with Modi tomorrow.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister also had frosty ties with the UPA. Naveen and Jayalalithaa were among the few leaders who bucked the Modi wave and led their parties to a sweep in the recent polls, as did Mamata Banerjee in Bengal.

A BJD MP said today that Modi listened to Naveen’s demands and was “very concerned”. The demands included grant of special category status — which will bring the state more central grants — and a hike in mineral royalty.

“The Prime Minister said he had been a chief minister for long and he could understand better the financial problems of the state. Modi said India can grow if the states would grow,” the BJD MP said.

Another party MP said the Centre could address some of the demands in the budget due in July. Naveen also met finance minister Arun Jaitley.