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Seeds of split in Orissa riots

Bhubaneswar, March 8: Officially, they split over seats. But riots had rocked the marriage long back.

A day after Naveen Patnaik ended his 11-year alliance with the BJP, insiders in Orissa’s ruling BJD said the chief minister had been feeling restless with his ally’s “pro-Hindu” stand following the murder of a VHP leader last August.

The murder had sparked violent attacks on Christians in tribal-dominated Kandhamal, forcing hundreds to flee their torched homes from rampaging mobs of alleged Sangh parivar activists.

Political observers said Naveen, desperate to salvage his image after coming under attack for joining hands with “communal” forces, may have long decided to part ways with the BJP and the seat-share talks may have just given him the opportunity to walk.

A BJD cabinet minister said Patnaik was annoyed when a section of BJP legislators threatened to withdraw support to his government following the August 23 murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati. BJP members had also stalled proceedings in the Assembly.

Senior VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia had even publicly held Naveen responsible for Laxmananda’s death.

The BJD minister recalled that Naveen rang up L.K. Advani and other central BJP leaders, after which the party general secretary in charge of Orissa, Vinay Katiyar, was sent to the state to resolve the issue.

A senior BJP leader, who was in Naveen’s cabinet, said the state leaders were asked by the central leaders to keep quiet and continue the alliance.

Sangh parivar leaders also put Naveen in a spot when they called an Orissa bandh on Christmas. A worried Naveen had to again seek the intervention of BJP central leaders and MP Chandan Mitra was deputed to end the deadlock.

The BJD, sources said, had to organise “harmony” rallies across the state in a bid to wipe off the “communal” stain.

According to another BJD minister, Naveen also met with opposition from BJP ministers when he decided to follow a Supreme Court directive and provide assistance to religious institutions damaged during the riots.

Officially, however, the BJD said the failure of seat-share talks for the coming state and parliamentary polls led to the divorce. “We wanted the alliance to win more seats so that the coalition could serve the people of Orissa longer and more effectively. However, they (BJP leaders) did not agree,” Naveen said.

Senior BJD leader Pyarimohan Mohapatra, regarded as Naveen’s adviser, today said the alliance broke because of the BJP’s “unrealistic demands”. “Instead of winnability, they insisted on number (of seats),” he added.

The BJD had asked for at least 100 of the 147 Assembly seats, 16 more than what it had contested last time.

The BJP had sought at least 10 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha seats, one more than the nine it had fought in 2004, and 63 Assembly seats.

State BJP chief Suresh Pujari denied that his party had been “rigid” on seats.

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