Aborted coup a clear warning for Naveen Patnaik

Written by: Sreekumar Narayan
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Dissidence in the Biju Janata Dal was the last thing on Naveen Patnaik's mind when he embarked upon a nine-day trip to the United Kingdom. However, the three-time Chief Minister of Odisha got a rude jolt when Rajya Sabha member Pyarimohan Mohapatra tried to engineer a coup on May 29, 2012.

Naveen Patnaik

Three ministers and nearly 30 BJD MLAs got together at Mohapatra's residence to ostensibly discuss the steep petrol price hike as well as the preparations for the Bharat Bandh that was due to be held two days later.

Whether those present including Mukund Sodi, Bibhuti Balabanta Ray, Susant Singh, Sanjib Pradhan, Srinath Soren, Manoranjan Sethi, Rajendra Sahoo, Bhagaban Kanhar, Sarojini Hembram Kamalakant Nayak, Jiban Pradip Das, Sudarsan Jena and Pravat Biswal deliberated on these issues is not clear.

Later some of the MLAs who attended the meeting claimed they were asked to put their signatures on a paper to choose Mohapatra as the new leader of the BJD Legislature Party. It seems the dissidents wanted to find out how many MLAs would back Mohapatra if he were to attempt forming a new government with the help of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Congress was looking to fish in the troubled waters. A few of its leaders even flew into Bhubaneswar for this purpose. Much to their dismay, 94 BJD legislators expressed support for Patnaik even before he returned to the state capital.

Soon after arriving, the CM met most of the ministers, MPs and MLAs to take stock of the situation. Despite Mohapatra failing miserably in his bid to topple Patnaik, the former was suspended from the party along with Biswal and Balabanta Ray.

Patnaik also sent a letter to Governor Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, recommending the dismissal of Women and Child Development Minister Anjali Behera and Commerce and Transport Minister Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo.

Though his chair is safe for the time being, the rebellion that has been quelled is a clear warning to Patnaik. Of late, he has focused on national politics. In the process, Patnaik seems to have neglected his party or else he would have surely got an inkling of the storm brewing within BJD.

Mohapatra is said to have been unhappy over Patnaik's "one-upmanship" for months. He felt that the CM had sidelined him in the run-up to the Athagarh Assembly byelections.

It was Mohapatra who ensured the party's success in three consecutive Assembly elections, yet he was not allowed a say when BJD geared up for the Rajya Sabha polls this year. Due to all this, the once trusted advisor of Patnaik tried to unseat him.

Others in the party who were upset at being similarly marginalised did briefly join hands with Mohapatra but when they saw that the total was not enough, many backtracked.

BJD has 103 MLAs in all. Besides, four NCP legislators are on the government's side. The dissidents and the opposition parties needed at least 75 of the MLAs to switch allegiance. Fortunately for Patnaik, that did not happen.

The CM has in the past allied with his Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Bengal counterparts on the NCTC issue. J Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik have also been trying to see to it that NCP leader PA Sangma gets an opportunity to become the first tribal president of India.

It is okay if Patnaik takes a strong stand on matters concerning Centre-State relations but at the same time he cannot afford to ignore the grievances of his own partymen. Otherwise, they may again revolt against his authority.

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