“What does not kill me makes me stronger.” True to this Nietzsche maxim, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to have emerged stronger after the failed coup against him while he was away on an official visit to the United Kingdom. In a series of moves that began soon after his return, Mr. Patnaik has dropped three ministers from the cabinet and consolidated his support-base in the ruling Biju Janata Dal. The suspended rebel leader, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, could only watch in helplessness the rapid depletion of his following once it became clear that he would not be able to successfully challenge Mr. Patnaik. Indeed, the Chief Minister met many of the dissidents who attended a meeting called by Mr. Mohapatra and obtained details of the main conspirators and the deliberations at the meeting. The remedial action was surgical in its precision, targeting the ringleaders and leaving alone those who claimed to have been misled. Not having alienated the entire group of dissidents, Mr. Patnaik thus retains a comfortable majority in the legislature. Besides the three ministers, only two of the dissident MLAs were suspended. The forgiven dissidents, like new converts, are now full of faith and repentance. The unsuccessful coup seamlessly gave way to a successful purge.
But Mr. Patnaik would be mistaken to assume that his tactical handling of the post-coup situation would bring down the curtain on all his political troubles. That Mr. Mohapatra could not muster the necessary numbers must have been comforting to Mr. Patnaik, but the question to ask is about the support that the rebel group managed to get initially. Surely, if some 30 MLAs can be persuaded to attend a meeting of dissidents, there must have been something seriously wrong with Mr. Patnaik's governance or style of functioning. In recent months, the mining scam had cast its shadow on the government, and Mr. Patnaik, who enjoys a relatively clean image, was seen as slow to act. Justice M.B. Shah, who heads the Commission of Inquiry set up to probe illegal mining of iron ore and manganese, had drawn attention to the involvement of bureaucrats in the illegal mining. But, to Mr. Patnaik's advantage, the rebel group itself was packed with persons of dubious character, and the allegations made by Mr. Mohapatra lacked credibility. Even so, Chief Minister Patnaik would do well to treat the threat to his leadership as a wake-up call, and pay greater attention to governance and development, and livelihood issues in Odisha. Otherwise, a fourth successive term might elude him in the general election two years from now.