Not all rebels have a cause, especially in party politics where rebellions are mostly struggles for power. The malcontents in the Biju Janata Dal, who split its parliamentary party, have no claim to any cause other than removing Mr Naveen Patnaik from the chief ministership of Orissa. The rebels’ success was not entirely unpredictable. It capped months of campaigning by a caucus led by the party’s Rajya Sabha member, Mr Dilip Ray, against Mr Patnaik. What began as personal rivalry soon sucked much of the party into it. The rebels’ complaint about Mr Patnaik’s allegedly arrogant style of functioning may not be completely unfounded. But it is difficult to accept it as a strong enough reason for tearing the party apart or trying to pull down a stable government. It is another matter, though, that the rebels actually have a long way to go to achieve in Bhubaneswar what they did in New Delhi. The chief minister enjoys the support of a comfortable majority of the party’s members in the Orissa assembly. Despite their success in the parliamentary party, the rebels would be hard put to present a leader in Bhubaneswar who can match Mr Patnaik’s charisma. It was primarily his personal charm that helped the BJD win all byelections in the state during his 29-month reign.
None of these should detract, however, from the shortcomings of Mr Patnaik’s stewardship of the party and the state.Catapulted to party leadership by the death of his father, the chief minister, who had never been in politics before, seems to have failed to grow into the role quickly enough. He remains too high-brow and stand-offish, not just for the masses, but for most of his party functionaries. That this is no way to carry the party with him is proved by the growing number of dissidents. Mr Patnaik’s chances of surviving the rebel assault seem better as long as he has his equations right with the Bharatiya Janata Party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition in Orissa. The dissidents’ attempts to unseat Mr Patnaik may not succeed unless they can wean away a majority of the 35 BJP legislators in Orissa to their side. This is a remote possibility, at least in the immediate future. The BJP’s central leadership has had none of the problems with the BJD that it had with other National Democratic Alliance partners like the Trinamool Congress, the Samata Party or the Shiv Sena. It is unlikely, therefore, that the BJP would fall into the rebel trap to create problems for Mr Patnaik. The saffronites themselves have lost one assembly election after another in recent months. They cannot afford to lose Orissa so soon after the defeat in Jammu and Kashmir and on the eve of the crucial battle for Gujarat.