Who is now the number two in the ruling BJD as well as in its 12-year-old Government? The issue is being debated in political circles here in the backdrop of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s ongoing nine-day tour of the United Kingdom since May 23.
All the orders are coming from Patnaik, who is also the party supremo, from London, whether it is the decision of the BJD to join the all-India shutdown call given by the opposition parties at the national level on May 31 against the petrol price hike or that of transfer of officials.
With the differences between Patnaik and his principal strategist and senior party MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra having widened further, the latter is no more calling shots in the BJD. The differences between the two were confirmed by Mohapatra himself when he told the media a few days ago, “I accept both the arguments that there was a rise in my influence and (is) a fall of that.”
When Patnaik left on his foreign jaunt for the first time in the 12 years of his rule, everybody was eager to know who would look after the party and the Government as the second-in-command in his absence. Patnaik, however, left no hints about it.
A number of Ministers who met Patnaik on the eve of his foreign visit had expected he would give the number two assignment to either of them. They were frustrated when the boss talked something other than what they were expecting.
Political observers had expected that as the senior-most Minister, Prafulla Chandra Ghadai would be asked to shoulder the responsibility of the administration in the Chief Minister’s absence.
Senior party leader and former Minister Damodar Rout, who is most vocal against “the second power centre” in the party and the Government, Pyarimohan Mohapatra, was also frustrated as Patnaik did not ask him to handle party affairs in his absence.
The leadership crisis was felt when Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh shot off a letter to Patnaik asking his Government to free all the innocent tribals booked on charge of being Maoists. Minister of Forests and Environment Debi Prasad Mishra tried to save the situation saying the State Government has withdrawn cases against 9,110 tribals. But the reply was all about statistics sans a political slant in view of the Union Minister’s apparent intention to defuse the tribal card being played by Patnaik propping up “eminent tribal leader” PA Sangma as a candidate for the Presidential elections.
Patnaik seems to give a clear message that there is no number two in the BJD and the Government. As many observers feel, time will tell if he can really manage the affairs of the party and administration without an unofficial second-in-command like Mohapatra.