Bhubaneswar: Expediency has been the key element of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s politics. His emphasis on pragmatism is becoming more and more clear with elections drawing closer.
Naveen’s statement that his party will have nothing to do with the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) that non-BJP parties are trying to forge is significant. It is obvious that he does not wish to align with any political combination aimed at toppling Prime Minister Narendra Modi even though he has no hesitation fighting the BJP-led NDA government on issues such as hike in the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy.
In fact Naveen’s Mahagathbandhan statement came in the immediate wake of his party’s sit-in at Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium to demand enhanced MSP on paddy for the farmers of the state and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report. He also has no hesitation in crossing swords with the Centre over the Biju Swasthaya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY), which is his answer to the PM’s Ayushman Bharat that he has steadfastly refused to implement in the state.
Yet he would not become part of any political combine against Modi. Even his response to Telengana Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s proposal to join the efforts to evolve a federal front of regional parties was not very enthusiastic. All that he told reporters following his meeting with KCR was that they discussed “several things including furthering the friendship of like-minded parties.”
He has not even been consistent about following his avowed policy of maintaining equidistance from BJP and Congress, making exceptions now and then to suit his political ends. For example, his party bailed out the NDA government when it was scouring for allies to get the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Amendment Bill, 2015 passed in the Rajya Sabha.
In 2017, it sided with the BJP by voting for its presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind and next year, similarly backed NDA’s candidate, Harivansh for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson. The BJD also staged a convenient walk out during the no-trust vote against Modi government last July. This year has been no different with the party supporting the much talked about upper caste quota bill of the Modi government.
BJD leaders argue that their stand vis-a-vis the Modi government varies from case to case, as the state’s interest remains the party’s overriding concern. “To an outsider, it may appear that we are supporting the Modi government in certain cases while opposing it in others. But for us, the most important thing is protecting the interest of Odisha. As a regional party, this is the right policy for us to follow,” explained a party leader.
The argument at best is specious. For example, there was hardly any state interest involved in BJD throwing its weight behind Ram Nath Kovind in the Presidential polls. The only plausible reason for doing so could have been the chief minister’s eagerness to earn some brownie points by extending support to a Dalit leader.
On the other hand, Naveen seems to have a vested interest in supporting the Modi government with Central funds being crucial to the development of the state, especially to the continuance of some important welfare schemes including Rs.1 per kg rice, which has proved to be a game changer as far as elections are concerned.
Naveen would also avoid rubbing Modi the wrong away with some of his party leaders still under the CBI’s lens in connection with the Chit Fund scam. The chief minister is keenly aware that any such probe can easily turn into a potent political weapon at the time of elections.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Odisha Bytes.