Stung by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's charge that he tried to replace him and spread rumours about his health, Jay Panda told NDTV that he found the comments "ridiculous and very sad". He also called it ironic, coming from his former mentor.
"I think it's ironic that someone who has spent four terms in office and is seeking a fifth term... The more credible allegation could be that someone is clinging to power past his sell-by date," Baijayant Jay Panda said.
A former national spokesperson of the Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Jay Panda, 55, was once one of the Chief Minister's most trusted aides. Two years ago, that association nosedived after Mr Panda went public with his criticism of party leaders over the BJD's poor performance in local body polls. Jay Panda was seen to have been in the exit mode for the past two years. Last month, he joined the BJP and was made its national vice president. He is also the party's candidate from his long-time constituency Kendrapara.
Naveen Patnaik, in an interview to NDTV, accused him of being a "man in a hurry" to usurp his job.
"It is ridiculous and very sad because of these kind of conspiracy theories that a new coterie that has taken control of the BJD has been spreading about me. It is ridiculous that an allegation has been made without any substantiation whatsoever," Jay Panda said.
On the charge of eyeing Mr Patnaik's post, Jay Panda said he had spent 18 years in parliament without any government office. "I never sought it, I still don't. I am in politics for a different set of reasons. I think I have built a track record... it is evident in my activity in parliament and outside, of championing certain causes. I have never hankered for office," he said.
He did stand by his accusation that Mr Patnaik's government is controlled by a close coterie and bureaucrats.
"The whole world knows IAS officer (V Karthikeyan) Pandian is running the government. Everybody in Odisha knows he has been collecting party funds, distributing party tickets. People whom he shelters are protected," said the former MP.
The Chief Minister calls the allegation "absurd" and insists he is very much in charge. An exercise video showing him jogging, cycling and walking, released last week, was seen as the BJD's effort to reinforce that Mr Patnaik is fighting fit.
"I don't think anybody in Odisha buys that," Jay Panda remarked.