Worse than the ignominy was the all-too-real spectre of a full-fledged rebellion. When at least 14 legislators defied a party whip and cross-voted in the favour of rebel Rajya Sabha candidate Dilip Ray, it bode ill for the Biju Janata Dal and its CM. Going by the numbers (Ray won by 28 votes), Biju Patnaik’s heir-unapparent has got a real fight on his hands.
For Naveen Patnaik, the schisms in the BJD are now well and truly tumbling out of the closet, what with old Biju loyalists ranged against his own supporters. The threat comes from the fact that Ray has joined up with Orissa Gana Parishad chief and former BJD leader Bijay Mohapatra, openly stating their grand intention of "reuniting the old Biju family".
It is a test of initiative that Naveen may not relish. Not surprisingly, he has flinched from taking direct action against those who voted for Ray—for that may only precipitate a vertical split in the party. He has fallen back on classic Indian-style evasiveness: setting up a three-member committee to ‘identify’ the rebels.
In the long run, he may well tide over the crisis. The CM is said to be contemplating the old ploy of a cabinet expansion and ministers ‘close’ to Ray or Mohapatra may face the axe. Trouble is, all the rebels need to do is persuade a third of the legislators to jettison Naveen’s ship.