By Ashok B Sharma
Engulfed with scams and scandals in the functioning of the government, the Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik is finding himself difficult to manage the growing dissatisfaction within his own party. There is no other option left for him but to expel anyone who raises voice against him.
The party vice president and former finance minister Prafulla Ghadai was expelled from the party for commenting that the chief minister has become “physically and mentally dull” and controlled by a coterie consisting of a bureaucrat who serves as his personal secretary, two MPs and a mining contractor.
To stem the undercurrent of dissidence in his party, Naveen Patnaik even went to the extent of accommodating turncoats like the former Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh and offering him a Rajya Sabha seat. This made his one-time advisor turned adversary Pyarimohan Mohapatra to forecast that in a matter of time, the overcrowded party would sink under its own weight.
It was Pyari who was instrumental in marginalising many founding members of the party including the former Union minister Dilip Ray who were forced to leave the party. At the instance of Pyari, the BJD chief Naveen severed 10-year old alliance with BJP in run up to the 2009 polls.
Banking upon the legacy of his father Biju Patnaik and in absence of an effective Opposition, Naveen is slated to complete his innings as chief minister for the fourth term, after winning 117 out of 147 seats in the state assembly and 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats.
But is Naveen’s popularity on the decline? The results of the by-elections scheduled for Kandhamal assembly segment on October 15 will tell. The BJP has fielded former BJD MP Rudra Madhav Ray as its candidate, while BJD has put up Pratyusha Rajeswari, widow of late MP Hemendra Chandra Singh. The 77-year old Ray was named as the party candidate a day after he joined BJP. Ray, who had been elected to Lok Sabha from Kandhamal on BJD ticket by securing more than three lakh votes, was denied ticket by the ruling party in April 2014 polls. The former MP was subsequently suspended from BJD for allegedly working against the party during the last polls. Ray was a member of the state legislative assembly for three terms from 1990 to 2009 prior to his being elected as a MP.
The BJP was hopeful of winning Kandhamal seat in 2009 following anti-Christian riots fuelled after the murder of the VHP saint Swami Lakshmanananda, but could not achieve its goal. However, this time BJP is trying its luck again by putting up Ray and banking on Modi euphoria.
After several scams including Minegate and Coalgate, recently the Ponzi and land scams have come to haunt Naveen. But he knows the tact of keeping away from the taint and proves himself as a saint. This is his art of survival. He shunts out ministers on report of a scam and brings them back again, only if they are loyal to him. He denies tickets to those in whom he smells of shifting in their loyalty.
Recently former Advocate General of the state Ashok Mohanty has been arrested in connection with the Rs 20,000 crore chit fund scam that duped over one million people. He had to resign after the CBI summoned him, but the chief minister accepted his resignation about four months after he stepped down. Names of several BJD leaders including those linked to the chief minister have come under the scanner.
Some photographs reveal that one of the prime accused in the scam Ranjan Das arrested by CBI, is helping senior BJD leaders – Kalpatru Das and Pravat Tripathy – file nomination papers of Naveen Patnaik for the party president election in January 2013. Ranjan allegedly also went to Naveen Patnaik’s house to get his signature on the nomination papers. However, the BJD sources have denied this link
In 2010, the Odisha crime branch had prepared a list of a dozen chit fund companies recommending action against them including those of Seashore and Artha Tatwa. But shockingly instead of taking action against such companies the state government signed MoUs with them for several projects.
Odisha Chief Minister also attended the inaugural function of a news channel owned by jailed key chit fund accused Prasant Das who is the owner of Seashore group.
The CBI has so far interrogated and raided the houses of two BJD MLAs and one BJD MP. The leader of BJD in Rajya Sabha Kalpataru Das had to resign from his post after his son and BJD MLA Pranab Balbantaray was interrogated by the CBI.
The CBI arrested two stock brokers, Deepak Pareekh and Dharmendra Bothra for allegedly being involved in misappropriation of funds of scam-tainted Artha Tatwa group. Bothra was earlier questioned by the CBI on his land deal with a BJD MLA and a BJD strongman’s son. The politician had bought a plot in Jaydev Vihar area in the state capital in 2003, but had later sold it off to Bothra. CBI grilled Pranab Balabantray, BJD lawmaker from Dharmasala Assembly segment, newspaper owner and builder Madhu Mohanty for their alleged link with ponzi scheme company Artha Tatwa group.
Naveen Patnaik had handed over the chit fund scam case to the Odisha crime branch more than two years ago and during their investigation the crime branch did not even question a single politician. With the CBI taking over the case after Supreme Court’s direction, within two months, several politicians have been interrogated and the political nexus in the chit fund scam has been revealed, giving Naveen sleepless nights. (IPA Service)