New Delhi, Oct. 29: In a blow to Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik, six Biju Janata Dal rebels today got one of his loyalists replaced as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.
Speaker Manohar Joshi recognised dissident MP Prasanna Acharya as the new leader in place of Naveen loyalist and water resources minister Arjun Sethi. Joshi, who informed Acharya of his decision, also recognised Bhatruhari Mahtab as the chief whip. Mahtab replaced Union steel minister Braja Tripathi.
The six rebel MPs — the others being Prasanna Patsani, Kumudini Patnaik, Prabhat Samantray and Jagannath Mallick — had on September 17 elected Acharya as their leader and had informed the Speaker in writing.
Explaining his decision, Joshi said other leaders had been given time after the six MPs submitted their letter and “finally we acted according to rules”. He said the BJD remains one party and only its leader in the Lok Sabha has changed.
The Lok Sabha secretariat, in its communication, said: “In the light of legal position and the facts on record, the Speaker has decided to accede to your request for change of leader and other office bearers of the BJD in Lok Sabha for functional purposes in the House with effect from October 29, 2002.”
Asked if he would accept Acharya as the leader of his party’s parliamentary wing, the chief minister was non-committal. “I will discuss the matter with my colleagues,” he said. “A decision will be taken soon.”
Although embarrassing for Naveen, the development, which coincided with the third anniversary of the 1999 supercyclone, poses no immediate threat. The rebels said they would continue to support the National Democratic Alliance and were not planning to split the 10-member BJD and claimed they were fighting only for internal democracy.
“Acting on the unanimous resolution submitted by the six MPs, Speaker Manohar Joshi has recognised me as leader of the parliamentary party and Bhatruhari Mahtab as chief whip,” Acharya told reporters. “Our aim has been to strengthen inner democracy in the party.”
Acharya, Mahtab and Patsani had challenged Naveen and formed the ginger group after Kumudini, Samantray and Mallick were suspended from the party on August 9 for “anti-party” activities. “Sethi was functioning in an autocratic manner and never bothered to discuss party matters and state issues with the MPs,” said one of the rebels.
Acharya said they wanted the BJD to function efficiently but were “not permitted” by the leadership to safeguard the interests of the people of Orissa.
“While the state is observing the third anniversary of the supercyclone, the disaster warning has actually come from Delhi,” Bijoy Mohapatra, president of the Orissa Gana Parishad, said.
Last week, Patnaik was forced to ask another loyalist, Biju Yuva Janata Dal president Atanu Sabyasachi, to resign to avert a rebellion.
In Orissa, a rebel leader claimed that Patnaik’s end was “nearing” and a major political development would happen before December. In the 147-member Assembly, the BJD has 70 MLAs. Its ally, the BJP, has 33.