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Jay Panda's resignation and its effects on Odisha's politics
For a change, the BJP does not have to fight against its familiar foe the Congress in Odisha where Naveen Patnaik's regional party the BJD is ruling for almost two decades. The Congress has significantly lost its base languishing at the third position.

Odisha Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections of 2019 will be interesting as the seemingly invincible BJD fort might finally be conquered. There are several factors that might work against the incumbent CM, but the Jay Panda episode is surely going to dent BJD's chances, particularly if a ripple effect follows, i.e. significant exodus of leaders and workers from BJD falling into BJP's lap. There are already talks in the corridor that a couple of BJD MPs may follow suit, but not yet confirmed. This is a big nightmare for the BJD Supremo.

Post the failed coup attempt by Pyari Mohan Mohapatra in 2012, the governance style of the CM had changed from traditional to bureaucratic rule giving rise to corruption and antagonizing many BJD leaders believing in traditional democratic principles. A particular bureaucrat, working closely with the CM, started calling all the shots from policy decisions to party matters. The disappointed BJD leaders had never dared to voice their concern to the CM. Jay Panda was the first leader who became vocal against the system and reminded the CM about the values of the party and the principles established by Late Biju Babu. He faced suspension coupled with personal attack as a consequence. He was pelted with stones, bricks and eggs by sponsored goons and his family's business ventures were harassed on flimsy grounds.

On May 22, Dr Banshidhar Panda, father of Jay Panda, passed away. The BJD supremo decided to stay away from offering homage to him apparently forgetting his contributions as one of the great sons of the state and the doyen of industries in Odisha. Taking cue, none from the BJD ever made it to the house of Dr Panda to offer condolence. No one from the BJD even tweeted a message. I wonder how humanity can play second fiddle to political vendetta. Odisha people are very angry for such a pathetic display of apathy towards a great son of Odisha, and the anger may get reflected in ballots.

Many leaders from the Congress and the BJP made a beeline to visit the deceased's house to pay last respects. Representatives from the BJD attended the 11th day rituals on 1st June 2018, but then it will help little in damage control.

Jay Panda thought 'enough is enough' and offered his resignation from the BJD in a well-articulated letter addressed to the BJD supremo emotionally highlighting the reasons why he wanted to quit. The letter is in public domain and has also gone viral on social media. Jay Panda was a founding member of the party, and therefore his resignation has opened a lot of possibilities and speculations in Odisha's politics.

Both the BJP and the Congress have expressed their earnest willingness to welcome Jay Panda should he decide to join them. Eventually he will take a decision soon, but I think he will join the BJP going by the suggestions of thousands of his fans on social media. PM Modi gave the performance report of his 4-year rule at Cuttack on Saturday 26 May. A couple of days later Jay Panda gave his resignation on Monday, 28 May. Those who like to read between the lines will not find it difficult to speculate where Jay Panda might be heading to. Social media had already declared him as the CM face of the BJP to take on Naveen Patnaik directly in the state.

Naveen Patnaik's popularity is still intact in the state, but his invincibility is no longer the same as was the case a decade ago. All the BJD MLAs are bound to face anti-incumbency of two decades. Populist schemes such as rice@Rs1 and meal@Rs5 cannot always buy votes. Rice@Rs1 scheme requires subsidies which the Central government pays more than 90 per cent, but many people are not aware of it. But now-a-days nothing remains hidden and therefore only populist schemes won't help gain votes. Odisha has not grown compared to other states and this is a fact. Therefore 2019 elections will be a cliffhanger for Naveen Babu.

The BJP has been looking east and eying Odisha to form the government. Jay Panda's resignation may be a deciding factor if he joins the saffron party. The BJP needs a face for its campaign in Odisha. The current BJP leaders in Odisha do not have the popularity or clout to surpass that of Naveen Patnaik compelling the party to fight the election in Modi's name. But someone will have to lead the Odisha government in case the BJP wins. Could Jay Panda be the one? Well, who knows? As of now, Dharmendra Pradhan has emerged as the CM face of the BJP, particularly due to the success of Ujjwala Yojana, but if Jay Panda could take on Naveen Patnaik directly staying in state politics then he might be considered as an alternative to him. Jay Panda commands respect not only in his constituency Kendrapada where he did a lot of work using his MPLAD funds and otherwise, but also across India as an honest and competent Parliamentarian. The only drawback in him could be the perception of a section of society linking him to his six decade old family business notwithstanding the fact that he never used his political position to derive any favours whatsoever for his family ventures.

Dharmendra Pradhan, Juel Oram and Vishwabhusan Harichandan could be the frontrunners for the CM post in case the BJP wins. But Jay Panda could spoil their chances. The biggest strength of Jay Panda is his impeccable honesty coupled with competence and passion to serve people more or less like PM Modi. Therefore it won't be a surprise if PM Modi chooses him to lead the State. This may not go well with other BJP leaders aspiring to be CM, but then that is how the cookie crumbles.

Another speculation is Jay Panda could fight LS elections in BJP ticket and be a minister in the central cabinet subject to a BJP win. If this happens, then I am sure Jay Panda will give Piyush Goyals, Suresh Prabhus, Sushma Swarazs and Nitin Gadkaris a tough fight as far as performance is concerned. He has proved himself as an exemplary MP doing great work for his constituency in Kendrapada.

Jay Panda's inclusion in BJP could be a winning strategy. First there will be some sympathy for Jay Panda coupled with anger towards Naveen Patnaik. If you add anti-incumbency to it, then a deadly combination is formed which is sure to transfer votes from BJD to BJP. Second, he can serve as a suitable alternative to Naveen Babu or a high caliber minister in Modi cabinet, a Win-Win situation for the people of Odisha. Third, a multitude of BJD leaders and workers may join BJP following suit spelling clear advantage for BJP.

Those who think that he may join Congress will be disappointed as no one wants to be part of a sinking ship. So this option can be ruled out totally.

Could he be fighting the elections independently and then decide the course of action after the elections? Yes, he could. But then it would be a high risk phenomenon. Who wants to take risk in politics?

I have a habit of interacting with all classes of people to understand their political views. Jay Panda's resignation has impacted the thought process of many Odias. Staunch supporters of Naveen Babu are upset with his apathy shown towards Dr. Banshidhar Panda's demise. The raw deal meted out to Jay Panda is not going down well with the electorate. So a change is anticipated.

Politically speaking, the situation in Odisha is volatile. Jay Panda's resignation acted like a stone thrown into stagnant water and therefore ripples are bound to occur.

Come 2019…we will know for certain.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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