Patnaik's axe invites fresh trouble in BJD

And that exactly has happened now with Damodar Rout, one of the dropped ministers, strongly criticising Patnaik and Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, MP, considered to be a  close associate of the chief minister over the reshuffle. Rout was the senior most minister in the cabinet holding agriculture portfolio. He also functions as a senior vice-president of the BJD.

“The media and the opposition parties often maintain that it is Mohapatra who virtually rules the state in the name of Patnaik. He takes all the decisions and the chief minister just puts his seal on them. I had never acknowledged these allegations. I always believed that in a ruling regional outfit, the chief minister is the only power centre. However, after the recent cabinet reshuffle I have been forced to change my opinion”, Rout said after he was sacked from the cabinet.

Old rivalry
Rout’s broadside against Mohapatra did not surprise anybody as both of them were having a running battle for supremacy within the BJD for quite a long time now. In fact, the open war of words between both the party heavyweights through the media had become a major embarrassment for the ruling party.

Rout had never challenged the leadership of Naveen Patnaik. Therefore, his recent utterances describing Patnaik as a mere ‘rubber stamp’ to Mohapatra has sent a ripple not only within the BJD but also in the state administration.

An embarrassed Patnaik has not said much on the development. “I have gone through the statement and the matter is being looked into”, he said reacting to Rout’s reaction. Mohapatra too has refused to comment on the issue.

However, Rout’s detractors within the party like former state minister and legislator Bishnu Das who heads BJD’s local unit in Jagatsinghpur, Rout’s home district, have already demanded his ouster from the party. Das, with the backing of Mohapatra, was also having a running battle with Rout in Jagatsinghpur.

Pradip Maharathi, a BJD leader from Puri who replaced Rout as the new agriculture minister has also lashed out at his predecessor for making such a hard-hitting comment against Patnaik. “He (Rout) should resign from the Assembly and seek re-election as an independent if he has the guts and confidence to take on the party leadership”, Maharathi said.

All these developments have led to intense speculations in political and other circles about Rout’s future in the BJD. Some analysts believe that Patnaik would soon be dumping his senior party colleague from the party. Patnaik is known to sacking senior leaders from the party at the slightest opportunity. Some of the examples are — former secretary general Bijoy Mohapatra, former union ministers, Dilip Ray and Braj Kishore Tripathy, former state minister Ramakrishna Patnaik and the party’s former acting president, Nalinikanta Mohanty.

All these leaders — except Mohanty — were the founder members of the BJD and had played a key role in bringing Patnaik to politics after his father, the late Biju Patnaik’s death. They had also played an important role in making Patnaik the BJD president after the split in the erstwhile Janata Dal and formation of the regional outfit in Orissa.
However, there is also a section of observers who are of the view that this time it may not be easy for Patnaik to repeat his past moves and sack Rout from the party immediately as the number of his (Rout’s) sympathisers within the party has reportedly been growing with each passing day.

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