Explaining BJD supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s absence at the swearing in ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru on Wednesday, party leader Arun Sahu said; “In his 18 years as Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik has never attended any Chief Minister’s swearing in.” But what he did not bother explain was why Naveen did not send a senior leader to represent the party, as he has done on other such occasions in the past. In this case, the BJD chief restricted himself to a mere congratulatory tweet. In any case, everyone knows that the Bengaluru event was more about the show of strength by Opposition parties, who are keen to build a broad anti-BJP front ahead of the next general elections, than attending the swearing in of a Chief Minister.
Sahu also invoked the oft-repeated BJD doctrine of ‘equi-distant from BJP and Congress’ to explain away the CM’s absence in Bengaluru. But that did not explain why the proposed meeting with TRS leader and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, the other prominent absentee in Bengaluru, scheduled for the first week of May, never materialized. After all, Rao, along with West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, has been the prime mover for a non-BJP, non-Congress Federal Front. Significantly, when news broke about the proposed KCR-Naveen meet in the third week of April, Naveen was quick to clarify that it would just be a ‘courtesy call’ and would not involve any discussion on politics.
The truth is Naveen’s ‘equi-distant’ policy is a clever ploy to keep his options open to have an understanding, covert or overt, with either of the two national parties after the next elections. The BJD boss knows he is well on course to get an unprecedented fifth consecutive term as Chief Minister and hence doesn’t want to do anything that might throw a spanner in his plans. The decision to skip the Opposition gathering in Bengaluru thus was prompted as much by a desire not to incur the wrath of Narendra Modi by joining a group ranged against him as an aversion to be seen on the same dais as Congress first family: Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Though BJD leaders have been parroting the ‘equi-distant’ line ad nauseum, the broad contours of a secret understanding with the Congress have been visible for some time now. In fact, two senior Congress leaders – former Union minister Bhakta Charan Das and former minister Sarat Rout – have openly said that their party was not averse to joining hands with the BJD to keep the BJP at bay, a statement that is yet to be formally denied by either side.
Even while inching closer to the Congress, Naveen has been at pains not to be seen in any anti-BJP grouping because he knows the Modi government can resurrect the meandering probe into the mega chit fund scam in the state – and even order a CBI inquiry into the mega mining scam as recommended by the Justice MB Shah Commission that probed it – to embarrass him and other BJD leaders. That is the reason he has stayed away from the move for a Federal Front too.
Temperamentally too, Naveen has never really relished being in any group and has always reveled in his splendid isolation since parting ways with the BJP in 2009. He knows he is sitting pretty and tying up with other parties would only mean sacrificing a few seats that his party is good enough to win. Maintaining the charade of ‘equi-distance’ thus makes eminent political sense for the canny BJD supremo.