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Nine votes in RS trigger political tremors

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By Soumyajit Pattnaik

The sum total of votes by BJD MPs in Rajya Sabha does not even cross the bare double digit threshold. Still, the political tremors triggered by BJD’s nine votes in favour of JD-U candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh are widely felt in Odisha as well as in Delhi. With BJD’s crucial support, JD-U candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh won the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson’s post defeating BK Hariprasad of the Congress.

The BJD vote signals the party’s return from an isolationist position to a new engagement policy. Earlier, the party was scrupulously following the equidistant policy vis-à-vis the BJP and Congress while voting for key constitutional posts. But with today’s vote in favour of JD-U candidate, the BJD has stepped forward to tilt towards one of the groupings without sacrificing its cardinal principles. During the Presidential polls, the BJD played the equidistant card with surgical precision. The party supported NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind for the post of President. But within days, BJD supported UPA candidate Gopal Krishna Gandhi for the post of Vice President. The perfect balancing act was accomplished without tilting either towards the NDA or UPA.

Compared to the President and Vice President elections, the election to the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson has created ripples both in Odisha and Delhi for varied reasons. First, the vote has come as a setback for many who wanted the BJD to join the anti-BJP coalition. Such a broad coalition is in the making comprising the Congress, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, NC, TDP, DMK and other parties. With today’s vote, the BJD has sent an unambiguous message that it would not join any such coalition neither now nor in future with the sole objective of dislodging the BJP from power.

If the BJD has turned its back on the anti-BJP coalition, is it ready to return to the NDA fold? A week is a long time in politics. But Naveen Patnaik is unlikely to embrace the NDA. Neither at this juncture nor in the immediate future. He will chisel his own independent road in Odisha without bothering too much about the political winds blowing in Delhi.

If the past is any indicator, Naveen will fight every inch to safeguard his own political turf in Odisha. Naveen’s political rivalry is mostly coterminous with the boundaries of Odisha. And on issues not affecting Odisha directly, Naveen is quite flexible and accommodative where each issue is weighed on its merit.

If one analyses the Naveen’s statement & tweets as well as the party’s written statement on the declaration of support, it’s obvious that the BJD is laying more emphasis on JD-U, Nitish Kumar and JP Movement. For example, the written statement by BJD says, “BJD has decided to support JD-U since the JD-U and BJD have similar ideological origins—emerging from the Jay Prakash Narayan movement”. Similarly, in his congratulatory message for Harivansh Narayan Singh, Naveen tweeted, “A socialist leader from the same village as legendary Jayaprakash Narayan and former newspaper editor & author, am sure he will discharge duties to the highest parliamentary tradition (sic).” Thus the BJD is projecting it more as a support for the JD-U candidate and not for any BJP-led coalition.

The BJD may have pulled out all the stops to project it as a vote for the JD-U. But the phone calls from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in quick succession have given new twists and turns to the unfolding political drama in Odisha. The phone calls have set tongues wagging on the political equations for the future. The phone calls have also caused considerable consternation in the BJP State unit which was ceaselessly attacking the State Government citing failures on several fronts. It’s perhaps time for the state leaders to pause and ponder whether their perception of CM Naveen is completely at variance with the Central BJP leadership. The impact on the BJP combat units deployed in the fields can be considerable when the top Generals extend olive branch to each other.

The phone calls may have been necessitated after the anti-BJP coalition building has gathered momentum. In UP, SP, BSP and Congress have already sealed the coalition pact. National politics is gradually gravitating towards bipolarity. Trinamool Congress and TDP are now spearheading the efforts to forge an anti-BJP front. In this backdrop, the BJP also needs help of regional parties like BJD which are treading with caution following a non-alignment policy.

In the days to come, the new evolving ties between the erstwhile allies may take a new shape. There are no possibilities of any seat-adjustment or alliance between the BJD and the BJP. But as more regional parties join the anti-BJP coalition, the Modi-Shah combine will certainly keep the door ajar for BJD for any possible post-poll exigencies.

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