Naveen Patnaik sidelined Baijayant Panda on suspicion that he was eyeing the CM’s post.
Bhubaneswar: With the resignation of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Baijayant Panda from the primary membership of the party, almost 90 per cent of the founder members of the regional outfit are out of the organisation. Only a couple of them — A.U. Singhdeo and Prasanna Acharya — are left in the party that was founded in 1997 to oust the Congress from power in the state.
Fiftyfour-year-old Baijayant Panda, son of a noted industrialist Dr Bansidhar Panda, was BJD’s progressive face. He promoted the image of the party and its leader Naveen Patnaik — both in the state and Delhi.
His entry into active politics began around 1997 when the erstwhile Janata Dal in Odisha was split and the BJD was formed as a regional outfit.
Mr Panda always served as the party’s crisis manager in Odisha and Delhi.
On the eve of the 2000 general and Assembly elections, the BJD almost faced a vertical split when in a sudden move, party chief Naveen Patnaik expelled Bijoy Mohapatra, the key architect and one of the prominent founder members of the party. Mr Panda, through his family-owned OTV, the state's leading Odia news channel, stood rock-solid behind him.
In 2002, when the BJD parliamentary party was almost on the verge of split, he played a crucial role in forging unity among the party’s lawmakers.
When retired bureaucrat Pyarimohan Mohapatra entered the state’s political scene around 2000 and managed the BJD party affairs; many more founder members like Dilip Ray, Ramakrushna Patnaik and Braja Kishore Tripathy were expelled. Later, between 2000 and 2014, a number of senior ministers Nalini Kanata Mohanty, Kamala Das, Prashant Nanda, Prafulla Chandra Ghadai were unceremoniously dropped, creating a lot of commotion. There were situations when the very existence of the party was in doubt. However, Mr Panda, as a true loyalist, was always there with the party and chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Trouble started for Mr Panda when it was rumoured in the party circles that he was eyeing the post of chief ministership. Party president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik gradually alienated him from the internal affairs.
In his Lok Sabha constituency, the BJD MLAs did not share dais with him. At many places, he was not allowed to inaugurate drinking water projects, sports stadium and other infrastructure assets. Instead, local party leaders inaugurated those projects, ostensibly to humiliate him in public.
At some places, stones and eggs were hurled at Mr Panda. The police complaints against such attacks were not promptly investigated. The culprits were not booked either.
As he was sidelined in the party, his family-owned company Indian Metal and Ferro Alloys Limited (IMFA), chrome ore mines at Sukinda and other ventures allegedly faced “orchestrated” harassment.
Deeply hurt by the fact that chief minister Naveen Patnaik did not turn up to pay his last respects to his father Bansidhar Panda who passed away on May 22, Mr Panda resigned from the BJD on May 28.
Mr Panda, a noted scientist, was a good friend of Biju Patnaik, father of Naveen Patnaik. Both Bansidhar and Biju had made significant contribution to the industrial revolution in the state.
Mr Panda’s resignation has fuelled much speculations about the future of the BJD. Many analysts are of the view that the party might face a revolt before the 2019 polls as Mr Panda has a sizeable number of followers among the 118 MLAs of the BJD. He is highly popular with people not only in his home constituency Kendrapara, but across the state. Grapevine has it that he will join the BJP because of his close proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and two Union ministers from Odisha — Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram. Analysts maintain that if the BJP manages to woo Mr Panda to its side, troubles for the BJD will increase manifold. The regional party, ruling the state for over 18 years, now faces the daunting challenge of accommodating ticket aspirants for the coming 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Each of the 147 assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies has four to five BJD ticket aspirants. In case Mr Panda prefers not to join any party, might extend his support to BJD rebels during elections. And, this would highly impact the BJDs poll prospects, the analysts.
Veteran BJP leader and Union minister Jual Oram has already said that the BJP would be happy to welcome Mr Panda into the saffron fold.
“Baijayant Panda is an acclaimed parliamentarian and everybody loves him in Delhi,” he said.