Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appears increasingly embattled by the revolt in the Biju Janata Dal led by his one-time advisor and hatchet man

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has pulled out all stops to thwart a challenge to his leadership of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) from his one-time advisor and trusted hatchet man Pyarimohan Mohapatra and other party workers.

Since March 2000 when Mr. Patnaik first became the Chief Minister, he has had a dream run. This is the BJD’s third term in power, and it seemed there were no clouds on the horizon — until May this year, that is, when the revolt began.

A week is a long time in politics, it is said. Six months later, the BJD president appears increasingly embattled and unable to curb the growing threat from the Odisha Jana Morcha, the political forum that Mr. Mohapatra, a Rajya Sabha member, has floated.

With the crisis refusing to go away, Mr. Patnaik has been addressing party rallies and meetings to keep his flock together; he has also announced new welfare programmes for different sections of people in order to maintain his popularity and protect his government’s image.

In the aftermath of the launching of the Jana Morcha, Mr. Patnaik announced that self-help groups would be given financial support of Rs.10,000 instead of the previous amount of Rs.5,000. He also declared that old-age pension holders would be paid Rs.200 to buy winter clothes. Further, he has assured payment of Rs. one crore per annum to the State lawyers’ welfare fund.

The Chief Minister now seems to be spending more time on planning moves to checkmate the Jana Morcha’s growth than in running the administration. He had suspended Mr. Mohapatra from the party along with two legislators and dropped three Ministers from his cabinet a few days after the alleged coup attempt on May 29, when he was away on his first official trip abroad. Although Mr. Mohapatra claimed he never had any intentions of ousting his one-time leader, Mr. Patnaik dubbed him a “traitor.”

For inner-party democracy

The Jana Morcha’s stated objective is to restore inner-party democracy in the BJD. Mr. Mohapatra has alleged that Mr. Patnaik is not running the party as per its constitution and no meeting of the State Executive Committee of the party had been held during the past two-and-a-half-years.

At its first rally in Bhubaneshwar on October 28, Mr. Mohapatra came out openly against the Chief Minister for his alleged inefficiencies, over-dependency on the bureaucracy and overlooking the interests of the grassroots level workers of the party. Many second and third-rung leaders in the BJD have crossed over to the new outfit where they have been rewarded with posts as office-bearers.

When Mr. Mohapatra announced the Jana Morcha’s second rally at Bhawanipatna in the backward Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region on November 19, Mr. Patnaik convened the State Executive Committee meeting of his party where a decision was taken to expel Mr. Mohapatra and another senior leader Jagneswar from the party.

The BJD responded by holding its own meetings in the same area ahead of the Jana Morcha rally, but the rival congregation at Bhawanipatna was quite a success. Mr. Mohapatra stepped up the tirade against Mr. Patnaik, dubbing him a “selfish” leader and also questioning his credentials as an Odia.

Since he entered State politics in 2000, Mr. Patnaik had managed to remain the undisputed leader of his party by removing many a senior leader if he sensed the slightest threat to himself. Ironically enough, Mr. Mohapatra was said to have had a hand in many of those removals aimed at strengthening Mr. Patnaik’s grip over the party.

Expelling Mr. Mohapatra was, therefore, never going to be a smooth affair. Mr. Patnaik now has a powerful enemy who has forced him to mount battle against large sections of his own party. There is an atmosphere of suspicion in the BJD as Mr. Patnaik tries to figure out who is loyal to whom, and who to Mohapatra. For his part, the rebel leader has dropped hints about converting the Jana Morcha into a political party.

Sensing opportunity, the Opposition Congress too has started highlighting scams relating to illegal mining, coal block allocation and the Maoist problem. The next elections are in 2014 and securing a fourth term in government is not going to be as easy as Mr. Patnaik once thought.

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