Bhubaneswar, May 3: Chief minister Naveen Patnaik today dropped hints about the possibility of the BJD welcoming back leaders who had quit the party for some reason or the other. He, however, clarified that this would be done on the merit of "individual cases".
His statement coincided with the announcement of the Rajya Sabha election date to fill up the vacancy caused by the sudden resignation of Bishnu Charan Das, who is the vice-chairperson of the state planning board. The election will be held on May 25.
"It will be taken on a case to case basis," said Naveen when asked about the possibility of expelled leaders making a comeback to the party. He made the comments after emerging from a review meeting with the grassroots-level leaders of the BJD from Kalahandi, where the party had miserably failed in the last panchayat polls.
The ruling party won 473 seats out of 851 - down from 651 in 2012 - in the recent rural polls. Worried over the party's poor performance and rise of the BJP in the state, Naveen is keen to strengthen it by bringing back leaders, who had either deserted the party in the past or got expelled.
From 36 zila parishad seats in 2012 to 297 in the recent polls, the BJP's surge has baffled pundits, who till recently were not prepared to take the "marginal player" seriously in the state. The BJP has edged past the Congress to emerge as the second major party in the rural polls.
"The move to bring back the old guard should be considered seriously in view of the growing infighting at higher level of the party which seems to be suspicious to the activities of BJD MP from Kendrapara Baijayant Panda and Cuttack MP Bhatruhari Mahatab following their tweets and newspaper articles critical of the party. They had questioned the leadership and also the party supremo's ongoing review meeting," said a senior leader.
Following the statement, speculations are rife about the return of Bijoy Mohapatra and Prafulla Ghadei to the BJD. While Mohapatra was unceremoniously thrown out of the party in 2000 and not even given an opportunity to contest the Assembly elections, former finance minister Ghadei was expelled in September 2014 for making critical remarks about Naveen.
Similarly, the party may be considering to bring back leaders such as Ramakrushna Patnaik, Dilip Ray, Panchanan Kanungo and Raghunath Mohanty, the last one being under suspension. Ray is a BJP MLA from Rourkela.
BJD's vice-president Damodar Rout welcomed the statement and said: "If senior leaders, who were loyal to Biju babu, return to the party fold, it will be strengthened."
Stating that the party supremo would take a final decision on the issue, BJD spokesperson Pratap Deb said: "The doors are open for all. Those, who abide by the leadership of Naveen ji, are welcome to the party fold."
Another spokesperson, Sashi Bhusan Behera, said: "There is nothing unusual about it. Many leaders from various political parties, who had earlier opposed the BJD, joined it. Even a stalwart of Congress Sudhir Samal from Dhenkanal district had recently joined the BJD."
Sources said that though Samal had been at loggerheads with Dhenkanal MP Tathagata Satpathy for a long time, the party decided to bring him into shore up its strength in the district.
However with the announcement of election to the Upper House, there is a race among the leaders to gain the confidence of party supremo.
"Though many names have surfaced in the media, no one knows what is going on in the mind of Naveen. As Bishnu Das was asked to resign, his seat must go to a prominent political personality, who can do liaisoning on behalf of Naveen in Delhi," said a senior BJD leader.