For Naveen, Congress still bigger enemy than BJP

BHUBANESWAR: Naveen Patnaik’s decision to support the NDA candidate in Thursday’s election for the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha has reaffirmed the fact that BJD regards Congress to be a bigger enemy than BJP. This, despite the fact that BJP has in recent months, emerged as BJD’s biggest challenger in the state.

If other parties were unsure of what turn the election would take, Naveen seemed quite clear about the importance of his nine MPs in the Upper House. This became evident when Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself called Naveen to seek his support earlier this week. The chief minister, who had earlier supported the Prime Minister on critical issues like demonetisation, GST and Assam’s National Register of Citizens, did not disappoint him. With BJD’s support, NDA nominee Harivansh Narayan Singh (JD-U) scored an easy victory over Congress’s B K Hariprasad, who contested on behalf of anti-NDA parties.

Naveen’s Rajya Sabha poll strategy once again reminded one and all of the fact that BJD was born out of Odisha’s resistance against Congress. “Naveen understands that his party can thrive on its opposition to Congress,” Jayant Mohapatra, a retired political science professor, said.

Another issue that appeared to have pushed Naveen close to JD-U, an important NDA constituent, is the shared ideology of the two parties. “Both JD-U and BJD were inspired by Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan,” BJD MP Prasanna Acharya, who had taken part in the JP-led Sampoorna Kranti in 1974.

Naveen, in his congratulatory message to Singh, made it a point to mention their JP links. He tweeted, “A socialist leader from the same village as the legendary Jayaprakash Narayan and former newspaper editor and author, I am sure he will discharge his duties according to the highest parliamentary tradition.”

Last year, too, Naveen behaved like a game-changer in national politics. While he supported Ram Nath Kovind as NDA’s pick for the presidential election, he backed opposition candidate Gopal Krishna Gandhi against BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu for the post of Vice-President.

This, to a great extent, made it difficult for Congress to read Naveen’s mind. Before the Rajya Sabha election for deputy chairperson, Congress dropped hints that it could support BJD if the latter contested for the post. When the Grand Old Party finally decided to field Hariprasad, it failed to anticipate the nature of the response from BJD. For Congress’s nominee was a known Naveen baiter. On Thursday, a BJD statement justified its opposition to Hariprasad because of his relentless tirade against Naveen when he was Congress general secretary for five years since 2013.

Stung by the defeat in the Rajya Sabha election, state Congress president Niranjan Patnaik came down heavily on BJD. He said, “BJD’s action is nothing but a deal to stop the CBI from exposing its misdeeds.” Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram tweeted, “BJD is shooting itself in the foot by voting for the NDA candidate when NDA has declared its goal is to defeat Naveen Patnaik’s party! The margin was only 20 votes. If the BJD had acted as a true Opposition party, the result would have been different.”

Naveen’s latest action has sparked speculation about BJD and BJP coming together again before next year’s assembly and parliamentary elections. Many said it could come in the way of Baijayant Panda getting closer to BJP.

Panda referred to his and BJD’s relationship with NDA in his message to Singh. He tweeted, “I congratulate the eminently suitable Harivansh Narayan Singh on his election as RS Dy Chairman. The irony for me, after being hounded by my former party for ‘being in sync with NDA’, is how often it has voted for the NDA in four years…”

In contrast, both BJP and BJD sought to play down their growing proximity. BJP leader and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, “BJP will fight on its own in the state and any party’s stand on RS deputy chairperson election should not be seen in that light.” On the other hand, BJD Rajya Sabha member Pratap Keshari Deb remarked, “We will continue to be equidistant from both BJP and Congress.”

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