Out of power after 2 decades & lacking new-gen leaders, Naveen Patnaik's legacy may not be enough to revive BJD

With age to his disadvantage, the former Odisha CM is unlikely to travel across the state to revive the party, which lacks new-generation leaders and is out of power.
Last Updated : 15 June 2024, 19:57 IST

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Out of power after 24 years of continuous rule in Odisha, everything is quiet in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) front. The drubbing at the hands of their long-standing ally-turned-foe, BJP, is yet to sink in among its leaders though the party supremo Naveen Patnaik has gracefully accepted the verdict and thanked the people for showering their blessings on him for such a long time. Regular meetings of senior members of the party to analyse the reasons of the debacle notwithstanding, the gloom in the BJD camp is apparent since such an outcome was beyond the expectations of the partymen.

The only highpoint after the poll results is the IAS-turned-politician V K Pandian’s announcement of quitting active politics which was short-lived. As Naveen Patnaik’s all-powerful Man Friday, who virtually ruled the roost and lorded over administration and the party at equal breath, Pandian's downfall was not unexpected. His rise was dramatic which eventually met with poetic justice. For his 'over-bearing interference' in administration, selection of candidates and emergence as the star campaigner after Patnaik, Pandian is blamed singularly for BJD’s debacle, earning him enough retribution that forced him to make such an announcement. Besides, he was also bound by his pledge to take sanyas from politics if Patnaik did not become the chief minister for the sixth straight term. A Tamilian by birth, his 'outsider' tag also proved to be his political nemesis.

Where does this 2020 batch IAS officer go from here? He was forced to quit IAS under opposition pressure last October to join BJD ostensibly to "serve the people of Odisha and for the love of his guru Naveen". His mysterious disappearance from the public is something still a topic of discussion everywhere. He may not come to the forefront but the possibility of his advising Patnaik discreetly on party matters cannot be ruled out.

Naveen, who preferred to keep himself cocooned, will in all likelihood continue to maintain the same posture as the president of BJD. His interaction with the partymen has always been minimal. It is a different story that he did undertake electioneering but it was not extensive like his counterparts amidst constant jibes from BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, about his 'failing health'. At 78, Naveen is visibly not in his best of health though he vehemently counters such claims by the opposition. 

With Pandian out of the scene now, Naveen will have to rely on a new breed of partymen to help him run the BJD affairs. Not having created a second rung of leaders so far, he is bound to face challenges in revitalising the cadre in the coming years. Keeping the full control of the party in his hands may not have been resented while being in power but he did not let anyone grow as a robust leader. Almost all the old guards responsible for creating BJD have either been thrown out or are dead. The party president would not even know 70% of the candidates who fought the Assembly elections, party insiders maintain.

With age to his disadvantage, it does not seem that he will be in a position to go across the state to revive the party prospects in the coming years. Those who will fill in for him may not generate the response as his visits would have because they do not have pan-Odisha acceptance. Therefore, BJD is sailing on a similar boat as the Congress.

The Congress has suffered over the years for perpetuation of the dynastic rule and BJD is an equivalent offshoot of late Biju Patnaik’s legacy. The collective decision of the staunch Biju followers after the leader’s demise gave birth to BJD in 1997 and Naveen, a political novice then, was almost forced to lead the outfit to a stupendous success in years to follow. Then it is hard to say if the Biju legacy would mean anything to the new generation of voters who would play a crucial role after five years. To them, Naveen is the most dominant political face in the state and undeniably the leader of the masses even out of power.

So, what is the possible scenario for BJD? It would work on strategies to wrest power after five years banking on Biju-Naveen legacy. Their success depends on how they turn the tables on BJP which will equally try to destabilise BJD. Therefore, the big question is whether BJD, as a party, will put all its stake on its patriarch’s charisma or will he find a successor and groom him/her for 2029 elections? Will it be Arun Patnaik, his Delhi-based nephew, to carry forward the legacy or somebody from the rank and file? Predictably, it will be somebody from the family to keep the party together but none is sure when this will happen.

(The author is a Odisha-based journalist)

Published 15 June 2024, 19:57 IST

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