The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has left the decision on the party’s stand on the no-confidence motion against NDA government, moved by the TDP, the TMC and the Congress to be taken up in Parliament on Friday, on party supremo Naveen Patnaik.
“We discussed the issue at the meeting, but could not arrive at a consensus. We have left the decision to the party supremo and would act as per his direction tomorrow,” Bhubaneswar MP Prasanna Patsani said soon after the two-hour long BJD Parliamentary meeting on Thursday.
While the decision was kept in abeyance till Friday, BJD sources say the party would, in all likelihood, abstain from the voting as per its policy of ‘equi-distance’ from the BJP and the Congress.
Significantly, the party stayed away from both Sonia Gandhi’s dinner for 20 ‘like-minded’ parties in March and the gathering of Opposition leaders in Bengaluru on the occasion of the swearing in of HD Kumaraswamy as Karnataka chief minister in May.
Though outwardly engaged in a fierce, no-holds-barred fight with the BJP in the run up to the coming elections, the regional party has been wary of being seen in any anti-Modi grouping. Earlier, Patnaik had politely turned down a meeting with Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, a key mover of the proposed Third Front, for the same reason.
That Patnaik is not as implacably opposed to the NDA government as other opposition parties has been clear for some time now. His party was among the first to lend its support to demonetisation in 2016. The BJD also supported the surgical strike and helped the NDA pass several key legislations either by supporting it or resorting to tactical abstention. But the party has also opposed the NDA on other issues like the Ayusman Bharat scheme and the hike in MSP for crops announced by the Union government recently in an effort to dispel the impression that it is allied with the BJP.
Having broken ranks with the Opposition to support Ramnath Kovind’s candidature for the post of President, it backed Gopal Gandhi in the Vice-Presidential election that followed. It has been a real tight-rope walk for the BJD as it prepares for a fifth straight term in office in the next election.
If Patnaik and his party want to avoid being seen as opposed to Modi, there is a reason for it. Of late, the BJP-led government at the Centre has dropped enough hints that it is not averse to using the CBI to embarrass the Naveen government on a host of issues. As part of the move to tighten the noose around the BJD, the central investigating agency first put the meandering probe into the multi-thousand crore chit fund scam on the fast-track, issuing summons to some key officials of the state government, including two IPS officers. Next, the Union Shipping ministry recommended a CBI probe into the sinking of the Mongolian vessel MV Black Rose, laden with 23, 000 tonnes of illegally mined iron ore, off the Paradip coast in 2009 in which a powerful ruling party legislator and former minister of Jajpur district is suspected to be involved.
The latest in this arm-twisting effort is the handing over of the probe into how Kendrapara-based gangster Syed Usman Ali alias ‘Tito’, presently in the custody of the Special Task Force (STF) of Odisha Police, managed to get two petrol pumps – one each in Kendrapara and Paradip - sanctioned in the name of his wife Benazir. While it was IOCL that awarded the pumps, IOCL CGM Pritish Bharat pointed fingers at the then Collector of Jagatsinghpur, who issued the all-important no objection certificate (NOC) for the pump.
No wonder the BJD has been willing to hit, but unable to hurt the Modi government beyond a point lest skeletons tumble out of its cupboard, as it did during the initial stages of the probe into the Ponzi scam.
In any case, the NDA is expected to sail through the no trust motion since the numbers in the Lok Sabha are tilted heavily in its favour. The BJD thus has nothing to gain by voting in favour of the motion and risking further trouble for itself.