The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saffron fears hit Orissa coalition

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 13: The Biju Janata Dal, the ruling party in Orissa, is caught in a cleft stick. It has identified its political enemy, but fears to say so openly.

Although the five-year-old regional party has allied with the BJP to form a coalition government in Orissa, of late it has found the saffron partner a stumbling block in its growth path.

The state executive committee of the party met recently under the chairmanship of president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik. At the end of the meeting, BJD secretary general and panchayati raj minister Damodar Rout declared that the party would fight both the Congress as well as the communal and divisive forces in the state.

However, the BJD’s predicament was evident when Rout refused to name the communal forces that his party aimed to do battle with. As mediapersons pressed him for a reply, he lost his temper and abused the reporters who had gathered for the briefing. “I know how to conduct a press conference,” he said. The newsmen walked out, protesting the minister’s behaviour.

Although the incident underlined the BJD leadership’s reluctance to fight the BJP openly, what is apparent is that the party has started a campaign to checkmate its enemy in the state. Both are alliance partners in the government while the BJD is a member of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

Reared on anti-Congress sentiments, both are united in their hatred for the Congress, which ruled the state for over four decades. With Naveen’s position in the BJD and state politics getting secured day by day, the BJD thinks it has a future in Orissa. But with the BJP’s fortunes on the upswing after the landslide win in Gujarat, the BJD’s leadership is wary that the Sangh parivar may repeat its saffron experiments in Orissa.

Already VHP leaders like Praveen Togadia and Sadhvi Rithambara have toured the state to spread the Sangh’s wings. “It’s easy to see why the two are so distrustful of each other. The BJD knows it is sleeping with the enemy, but can’t do anything,” said a political analyst.

On December 26, the sixth foundation day of the BJD, senior BJD ministers like Prafulla Ghadei and A.U. Singhdeo launched a broadside against the BJP, calling it a “communal organisation” and a “signboard party”.

The attack drew protests from the BJP. “They want to stay in power and yet vilify us. This is sheer opportunism,” said BJP national secretary Dharmendra Pradhan.

BJP insiders say the BJD is apprehensive of its alliance partner’s growth and is trying its best to keep its vote bank intact, particularly after the BJP victory in the Gujarat polls.

With the municipal polls scheduled this year, the sparring between the partners is likely to escalate and may jeopardise the future of the non-Congress coalition.


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