BHUBANESWAR: Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik happens to be the only rival of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which, despite all criticisms, has stood by the latter during all political crises. Though the two parties traded acrimonious charges during the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held simultaneously in the state, they have never presented themselves as adversaries in public.
The regional party has not failed to extend its support to the BJP when it comes to passing controversial bills in Parliament. The growing cordiality has baffled leaders of other political parties.
The BJD which claims itself a secular party and enjoys an unflinching support of Muslims in the state supported the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in Parliament. Earlier, it had supported the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 (famously known as Triple Talaq Bill) and abrogation of Article 370 that guaranteed special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Triple Talaq Bill and many other pieces of legislations have been passed in the Rajya Sabha where the National Democratic Alliance does not have the required number to ensure the passing of bills.
In the aftermath of passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 when the BJP's rivals like Trinamul Congress, Congress, Left parties along with some of its like-minded parties and allies like Janata Dal(United) and Shiv Sena have upped their ante against the BJP-led NDA, Mr Patnaik has remained inexplicably silent.
Though a few Muslim organisations, known to be close to the BJD, in Bhadrak and Kendrapara districts initially raised their voice against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), Mr Patnaik adroitly assured their leaders that no Muslim in the state will be affected by the CAA. He even announced that the NRC exercise would not happen in the state.
Mr Patnaik, who entered state politics in 1997, has been ruling Odisha since 2000. His first stint from 2000 to 2004 and the second term from 2004 to 2009, together with its ally BJP, almost went by peacefully, barring a few days when the two partners broke alliance to go to 2009 polls separately. Mr Patnaik had then shunned the BJP dubbing the latter as "communal". Seething in anger, the BJP had done its best to dislodge the party from power. It always raised the issues of chit fund scam and mining scam to shatter Naveen Patnaik's much-claimed “honest” image, but the saffron party could not gain much. In all elections held ever since, Mr Patnaik returned to power with flying colours.
As many wonder why an arch rival of the BJP is supporting the saffron party and all its activities - both on the floor of Parliament and outside, critics say the astute politician Naveen Patnaik, who has convincingly defeated the BJP election after election, at present senses no threat from the latter and hence does not want to lock horn with it so as to focus on development activities in his current fifth term.
“By extending support to the BJP on the floor of the House, Mr Patnaik has successfully shielded his scam-tainted ministers and party leaders against the action by federal investigating agencies. He has also managed to extract more grants which he utilises to roll out new schemes and fund the existing ones, thus further securing his vote banks,” says Prof. Kishore Chandra Swain, a political analyst who teaches at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar.
Prof. Swain dismisses the speculation that the CM and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik's support to the BJP is a political compulsion to ward off actions by the investigating agencies.
“Naveen's support to BJP is purely a high level of sensible political exercise. As the Congress is almost wiped out and is not in a position to revive itself due to lack of unity among the leaders, the CM wants to rob the BJP firepower by constant support. After consolidating his vote banks in almost all sections of people, he has aptly created a much-required confusion among the people whether the BJP is BJD’s rival or ally,” says Prof. Swain.