Co-opting adversaries or their offspring has been a strategy that has paid rich political dividends to Odisha chief minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik. Among the most prominent people, who had once fallen out with him or were in the Opposition but re-inducted into the party later, is former finance minister and senior BJD leader Prafulla Ghadai. He was expelled from the party for speaking against Naveen in September, 2014 but was taken in on the eve of the last elections. Curiously, even as Ghadai remained expelled, his son Priti Ranjan Ghadai continued to enjoy the confidence of the BJD chief.
Damodar Rout, another former minister and a senior leader, who had joined the BJP just before the 2019 elections after being expelled from both his ministerial post and the party for leveling serious corruption charges against his own government, is still waiting for the green signal to return. He has already resigned from the BJP. Interestingly again, even as Dr Rout remained at loggerheads with Naveen, his son Sambit got the BJD ticket from his former constituency Ersama. His daughter Pritinanda also continued to be in the party.
Ashok Das, another Biju Patnaik loyalist and former president of the Odisha unit of the erstwhile Janata Dal, had opposed formation of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) tooth and nail till his death. But that did not prevent his son, Pranab Prakash Das, from emerging as the most powerful leader in BJD in Naveen’s scheme of things.
Some of the prominent Opposition leaders who have switched camps and joined the BJD bandwagon are former leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh, Jharsuguda strongman Naba Das, who is now the health minister in the Naveen Patnaik government, and former Union minister and present MP from Berhampur Chandra Shekhat Sahu. Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, Editor of the No. 1 Odia daily ‘Sambad’ and a former Congress MP, was also a bitter critic of Naveen Patnaik for the better part of last 20 years. He surprised everyone when he joined the BJD last year and was given a Rajya Sabha tcket within hours. There are numerous other examples of former adversaries of lesser stature or their wards who have joined the BJD after railing against it for years.
To this long list of adversaries turned allies has now been added the name of Sikta Pati (54), the daughter of former BJD ‘marg darshak’ Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who had the bitterest imaginable fall-out with Naveen in 2012 after allegedly plotting a coup while Patnaik was away in England on his first – and so far only – foreign tour in his 19-year long chief ministership. However, Sikta, who joined BJD last month, has flatly rejected the charge against her late father.
"My father did not hatch a conspiracy. He was caught in one," she told Indian Express. Sikta, who has worked for decades for UNICEF and the CSR sector, said she joined the party to contribute her professional expertise and experience to the programmes launched by the Naveen government and not to get a party ticket. “If I was interested in electoral politics, I would have joined the party before the election,” she said further.
But this is by no means her first foray into politics. After the death of her father, she did take the reins of the Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM), the party founded by Pyari Mohan after his expulsion from the BJD, for some time. Despite her denial, therefore, the possibility of Naveen giving her some party position – maybe even a ticket for a future election – cannot be ruled out.
This well thought out strategy of roping in erstwhile opponents, whether in the party or outside, or their children serves three important purposes for Naveen. First, every such induction means one real or potential adversary less. Second, it helps reinforce the TINA factor that has worked wonders for Naveen in the last 20 years. And third, it demoralises the Opposition. Together, these three factors have been a winning formula that has contributed significantly to the aura of invincibility around the BJD boss.