Presidential election to test Naveen Patnaik’s hold on BJD
By Bijay Chaki - BHUBANESWAR
Published: 22nd Jul 2012 01:02:03 PM
For BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik, the outcome of the Presidential election does not hold much significance despite his hopes for a victory for former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma. What’s at stake here is issues of his leadership and hold over the regional party since the important political incident comes less than two months after the May 29 coup attempt by his trusted advisor Pyarimohan Mohapatra.
That explains why Patnaik spent five hours in his Assembly chamber and was the last to cast his vote in the Presidential poll on July 19. Sangma is certain to lose the contest but the poll results will give the first test of Patnaik’s authority after it was challenged by the dissidents. Even though the BJD ruled out any cross-voting from its ranks in the poll, the BJD—and Congress too—suspect that some of their MLAs may have voted flouting the party line.
The seriousness with which Patnaik took the Presidential poll can be gauged from the detailed planning of the BJD managers. Every MLA was alloted time for voting. The MLAs had been divided into groups of six or seven. The MLAs of a group voted one by one. When one group finished voting, another came in to vote. Known dissidents were put in different groups so that they cannot vote en bloc. A senior BJD leader said that this was done to prevent cross-voting and also to test the loyalty of the MLAs.
Sources said the BJD managers have calculated 117 votes for Sangma from Odisha, including seven votes from the BJP. These include 108 BJD MLAs and two Independents who support the ruling party. Even a single vote less than this would lead to the conclusion that there has been cross-voting.
Ever since the aborted coup by Mohapatra, Patnaik has been out to prove that he is the ultimate boss of the party and the iron hand with which the BJD supremo went about striking at the rebels was evidence of his desperation. While he may have succeeded in suppressing the uprising, the Presidential poll results could just hand him right report card he wants to flash to his detractors who thought it was Mohapatra who ran the show in BJD, not Patnaik.
Despite the precautions, the script seems to have not run on the expected lines. BJD managers fear that some of the dissidents may have voted for UPA Presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee. Talks over cross-voting are doing the rounds in political circles here, though it is very difficult to pinpoint those who have done it.
The Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) maintained that the BJD MLAs were under tremendous pressure to show their loyalty to Patnaik in the Presidential poll. The manner in which Prabhat Biswal and Pranab Prakash Das showed their ballot papers after voting clearly showed that they were under pressure, OPCC media cell chairman Narasingh Mishra said, adding that this showed that the chief minister was nervous.
While Biswal's vote has already been rejected, the Congress has lodged a complaint with the Election Commission of India demanding rejection of Das’s vote. Senior BJD leaders are, however, tight-lipped about the issue of cross-voting except asserting that there was no such thing.
The Congress is also not sure that all the MLAs have voted for Mukherjee. Sources said that three to four MLAs of the party may have voted for Sangma and many senior partymen fear so.
With the Presidential election over, the focus has now shifted to the expansion of ministry. A large number of ministerial aspirants are waiting for this exercise after the May 29 failed coup bid. Sources said that with the Monsoon Session of the Assembly likely from August last week, the chief minister will have to expand his ministry before that. There are now five vacancies in the ministry.