It is not often that someone is summarily expelled from a party without so much as a showcause notice or even a suspension. It is even rarer when someone is expelled for “anti-people activities”. And when it is someone like one-time Naveen Patnaik acolyte Pradeep Panigrahi, it is bound to set tongues wagging. Hence, it was only natural that eyebrows were raised when the former minister and Gopalpur MLA was expelled from the party this morning.
The noose was, of course, tightening around Panigrahi’s neck after the vigilance raid on senior IFS officer and additional principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Abhaykant Pathak, which unearthed disproportionate assets worth over Rs 9 crore. Panigrahi’s daughter was all set to marry Pathak’s son Akash, who was arrested along with his father for impersonating as a senior Tata executive and collecting money from people promising them jobs in the company, at the Taj Palace Hotel in Jaipur on December 11.
Though the BJD is yet to clarify what exactly were the “anti-people activities”, the grapevine says Panigrahi was expelled for facilitating or, at the very least, was in the know of the shady activities of his would-be son-in-law. That is precisely what senior BJD leader and former Berhampur MLA Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik said. “Such fraud is not possible without political patronage,” the veteran leader said.
Reacting to his expulsion, Panigrahi has dared the party to spell out what exactly were the “anti-people activities” he was being punished for while flatly denying all charges against him. “I have not indulged in any anti-people activities,” he thundered.
Panigrahi shot into prominence when he was chosen by BJD supremo and five-term Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to look after the affairs of Hinjli, the constituency the CM represents in the Assembly after the 2004 elections. That he did his job well was proved when he was first rewarded with a party ticket for the Gopalpur constituency in the 2009 and then made a minister after the 2014 elections. During this period, he was known as someone who has the eyes and ears of his boss. He was also made president of the district unit of the BJD for Ganjam, Naveen Patnaik’s home district.
But relations between Naveen and his acolyte began to deteriorate after the 2019 elections when a section of the party accused him of engineering the defeat of three out of the 15 Assembly constituencies in Ganjam. However, the first public sign that all is not well between the two came when Panigrahi dashed off a letter to the chief minister complaining about the government keeping public representatives away in its fight against Covid-19.
Though the action against Panigrahi came after the raid on Pathak, for his alleged links with the latter, the grapevine has it that it is, at a deeper level, the fallout of an internal party fight. The raid on Pathak is widely believed to be the handiwork of powerful rivals of Panigrahi inside the party. “How else can one explain the fact that the government was sleeping all these years while Pathak was making so much money? He could not have amassed so much wealth in a matter of weeks, could he?” asked a political observer. The fact that the action against the former minister has come at a time when his daughter was about to be married to Pathak’s son lends credence to such an assessment.
This is not the first time Naveen Patnaik has dropped a confidante like a hot potato when there is a possibility of an adverse political fallout. Bari MLA Debashish Nayak, who was political secretary to Naveen when he began his political innings, has now fallen by the wayside as has former blue-eyed boy Jay Panda, who used to be the face of the party in Delhi. And there is little doubt the cropping up of Panigrahi’s name after the raid on Pathak has embarrassed both the party and the government. The BJD supremo realised that any failure or delay in acting – and acting tough – against Panigrahi would lead to fingers being pointed at himself because of his past relations with the Goplapur MLA. Canny politician that he is, Naveen understood that the time to act against Panigrahi is now.
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