Bhubaneswar: On Tuesday, Bhubaneswar was rife with speculations that the dissident group within the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was all set to topple the 12 year old Naveen Patnaik government while the Chief Minister was away in London on an eight-day official trip. By evening, the speculations appeared real when nearly 25 BJD MLAs including four ministers were found marching into the house of Pyarimohan Mohapatra, the dissident BJD MP who had been calling the shots both in the party and the government until recently when he fell out with Naveen Patnaik.
The media rushed to the MPs residence and stayed put till 1 am following strong rumours that the dissidents had managed to get the support of 80 MLAs including that of 17 Congress and three Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs and also that they had plans to demonstrate their strength in front of the Governor on Wednesday. Every MLA and minister who attended the informal meeting at Mohapatra's place was mobbed by media persons who wanted to know their next move. All that they were willing to say was that they had come to discuss the party's plans for the Bharat Bandh on May 31.
Taken aback by the sudden development, Naveen loyalists got into the act and asked all the party MLAs present in Bhubaneswar to reach Naveen Niwas, the residence of the chief minister. By midnight, around 25 MLAs including four of those who were part of the meeting at Mohapatra's place had assembled. The number game had started with both camps maintaining there were more people on their side. The developments looked ominous with the media predicting a change in the government and party leadership or at least a major split.
But what started as a bang ended in a whimper.
In less than 12 hours the situation had changed. Pyarimohan Mohapatra, the rallying point of all dissidents went soft and appeared to have backed out. In a hurriedly called press conference Mohapatra sought to dismiss reports that he was trying to dislodge the Naveen Patnaik government and split the party. Naveen is the leader, he said and explained that the meeting of party MLAs and ministers at his house was to discuss the problems and issues in regard to the functioning of the party and the government. But he chose to issue a veiled threat as well, saying Naveen is safe until he responds to the grievances of the party workers and removes the 'evil elements' in the party.
While Mohapatra was busy explaining his position before the media, over 50 MLAs had arrived at Naveen Niwas to express their support for the party supremo Naveen Patnaik. The coup had been stemmed and the Naveen loyalists had reasons to rejoice.
Naveen joined politics after his father Biju Patnaik's death in 1997 and since then he has been the unchallenged leader both in his party the Biju Janata Dal - and ruling the state for the last 12 years. He has turned out be the biggest vote catcher in the state and has won all the elections with overwhelming majority. His 'clean image', his drive against corruption and a number of populist programmes like the Rs 2 per kilogram rice for the poor have worked wonders for his party and the government.
However, it is a fact that Naveen depended heavily on Pyarimohan in all matters relating to the party and the government for all these years. However, things soured early this year when Naveen and his band of loyalists resented the highhanded manner in which the former IAS officer and Biju Patnaik aide operated. Naveen also realised that his 'political advisor' was getting too big for his shoes and getting over-ambitious. He wanted to cut him to size by side-tracking him while taking major decisions like standing up against the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), striking alliance with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and even projecting PA Sangma as the Presidential candidate.
This punctured the ego and image of Mohapatra who until recently was always referred to as the de facto chief minister and the second power centre. Egged on by his followers in the party, Mohapatra decided to play Brutus and teach Naveen Patnaik a lesson. But the so-called master strategist's master plan turned out to be huge flop and left him appear a little too vulnerable. With the 'coup' plot failing miserably, the dissident camp is now apprehensive of retaliatory action by the party supreme once he lands in Bhubaneswar on June 2 to take stock of the situation.
Story first published:
May 30, 2012 22:25 IST