May 09, 2017

India - Orissa: Countering a resurgent BJP has become Naveen Patnaik’s biggest challenge (Edit, The Times of India)

The Times of India - May 9, 2017

Rejig in Odisha: Countering a resurgent BJP has become Naveen Patnaik’s biggest challenge

TOI Edit in TOI Editorials | Edit Page, India, politics | TOI

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik carried out an exhaustive reshuffle in his three-year-old ministry by inducting 10 new faces among 24 members, while assigning important organisational tasks to outgoing ministers this Sunday. The exercise is largely aimed at reining in a coterie of ministers and politicians perceived to be running the administration. Anti-incumbency was reflected in BJD’s unimpressive performance and BJP’s surge in recently concluded local body elections. It is this that may have prompted Patnaik to try to set his house in order.

Today’s reshuffle may remind observers of 2012 when Patnaik cut short his trip to London to crack the whip on dissident leaders. The revolt was led by former bureaucrat turned politician Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, adviser to Patnaik for over a decade. Patnaik sacked two ministers and suspended two other MLAs as a course correction exercise then. Patnaik faces a major political challenge again this time. BJD won 474 out of 853 seats in recently concluded zilla parishad elections where it had won 651 seats in 2012, while BJP appears to be catching up as it won 297 this time as opposed to only 36 in 2012.

Patnaik, however, has proven ability to out-manoeuvre opposition challenges. He broke the alliance with BJP in 2009 and yet won 103 of 147 assembly seats, following it up with 117 seats in 2014. This time around, the Modi-Shah duo wants to see the lotus blooming in every state and will leave no stone unturned for this purpose in Odisha. The four-time chief minister had been relying too heavily on bureaucrats to deliver the goods so far. Patnaik needs to crack the whip on corruption, mingle more with his MLAs for valuable feedback and continue with the organisational rejig to withstand BJP’s onslaught.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.