By Dr.Sasmit Patra
Rajya Sabha MP and BJD leader Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who was a one-time confidant of Naveen Patnaik and presently serving suspension in the BJD for a failed coup attempt against Naveen, has been written off as dead wood by all and sundry. His political obituaries have been painted across the state and beyond. People have called him “traitor”, “beimaan”, “ungrateful” and “evil”. He has been virtually besieged by BJD activists with protests wherever he has been visiting in Odisha. The latest being the protests against him in Koraput. Many questioned his immaturity as a politician for even attempting to unseat Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister of Odisha and some even attributed it to his septuagenarian advancing age. Naveen is reported to have remarked that Pyari Mohan failed in his coup attempt since for the first time he used “his heart instead of his head.” The press and media have lambasted Pyari in no uncertain terms and the seventy thousand strong crowd reception of Naveen, at Bhubaneswar airport on his return after the failed coup, was attributed to the overwhelming love and respect for Naveen and abject rejection and disgust at Pyari Mohan. Naveen was the God and Pyari the fallen God for BJD.
Pyari does not hold sway in state’s governance and BJD’s political planning anymore. He is perceived as a spent force, a man, whose time has come to hang his political chappals, recline in his Saheed Nagar house and quietly fade out into political oblivion. He is perceived as a shadow of a man who was at one time politically feared, bureaucratically respected and strategically the grey matter of BJD. So why speak about a spent force, an old man who is approaching his political winter. There were many politicians before Pyari Mohan namely Narsimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri, Devegowda, I.K. Gujral, Manmohan Singh, Pratibha Devi Patil, Buta Singh and the list is endless who were cited as spent forces in politics, living on the fringes of public life, about whom political epitaphs and memoirs are written. Living their time to probably write their autobiographies. But in politics the unthinkable is thinkable. All of them surprised politics itself with their re-advent and subsequent political careers which shaped the destiny of India in some measure.
In politics; never, never, never, never, never, never write off a politician! Closer home Late Biju Patnaik was considered history with J.B.Patnaik ruling as Chief Minister from 1980-1989 in Odisha. In 1995, J.B.Patnaik was ruled out of the Chief Ministerial race since he had not contested the elections. He not only became the Chief Minister but also ruled with an iron hand before he was removed. Naveen Patnaik was considered a political bunny, whose sole task was to dance to the tune of Bijay Mohapatra and Dilip Ray. He was considered a shadow of his father the great Biju Babu and people wondered if he was even a quarter similar to his father. But the same man has been ruling Odisha for the past three terms strongly and at the moment looks set for a fourth term.
Politics is a great leveler. Ask Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Riding on an emphatic electoral mandate in 2009 they were confident that UPA-II would be the flagship Government that would redefine political history. With less pressure from allies the Government looked set to bring in major reforms, streamline regulations, increase FDI in retail and insurance and above all create a stronger and robust economy which would have been the befitting tribute to the “Manmohan-omics” of Manmohan Singh. But three and a half years down the line, the Government has been gasping for breath. The Congress has been losing every major state assembly election. A proverbial titanic is on the verge of sinking. But will it sink? That’s again where politics will play truant. The BJP is organizationally weak and its allies are wavering as seen with JD (U) in the Presidential elections. Would Congress being the comparatively stronger party still make it to UPA-III? That’s when politics could play another leveler on the people of this country.
Therefore in political realm to cast off a politician as a forsaken entity is fraught with danger. I was discussing with a senior journalist in Bhubaneswar yesterday, a person who in fact hates the very guts of Pyari. But he conceded that even today about 35 to 40 MLAs still swear allegiance to Pyari though they sip tea with Naveen in Naveen Niwas. The journo informed that apparently a large cache of resources are reported to have been placed with Pyari during the Panchayat elections which Naveen will never able to retrieve. The veracity of these claims is open to public speculation only. But, Pyari Mohan was the man who single handedly built the BJD electoral machine for the past two elections, conducted independent surveys, identified winnable candidates, established winnable issues, coordinated resource and administrative machinery utilization and was solely responsible for the overwhelming presence of BJD in western Odisha which till the 2008 was virtually non-existent. BJD used to concentrate on coastal Odisha and its then ally BJP used to take care of western Odisha. But within nine months post the Kandhamal communal violence in 2008, Pyari had virtually turned every BJP district and block unit into a BJD unit.
A man who has had the insider information on the chinks in BJD’s armour, still commands respect either out of fear or reverence among the business community and has is fingers in literally every section of governance and politics in Odisha cannot be wished off with the stroke of a pen or a few sound bites. The reality is that Pyari Mohan is alive and kicking politically. The deliberate shying away from the media is a ploy to buy time and gain space so that his next moves could be planned to perfection. Naveen of late has been busy posing for shutterbugs with Narendra Modia, Jayalalitha and P.A. Sangma who are perceived as serious opposition to UPA and the Congress. He has also back-stabbed Sharad Pawar by buying in the four NCP MLAs in Odisha to the BJD. The NCP is a strong ally of UPA and has not taken kindly to the “Et tu Brute” action by Naveen, notwithstanding that this Brutus-like action of Naveen was never debated in public domain. But in a nutshell, Naveen has been providing enough ammunition to the UPA and particularly to the Congress for them to distrust him. Sonia Gandhi will be under pressure from her coterie to forego her “go slow” policy on Naveen. This could be an ideal break for Pyari to jockey with Congress and become a strong bargaining chip.
Whether Naveen becomes Chief Minister for the fourth time or Congress makes a comeback. Whether a third regional force would rear head or would Congress back Pyari to take on Naveen in a disguised proxy war. All these speculations may seem independent but in some measure will have a flavor of Pyari in it. If Naveen has wished away Pyari as a forgotten book then he is committing political hara-kiri. Naveen’s political advisers may paint the moon green for him with a conch on it and point to his growing clout, but the fact remains that Pyari is like a desert rattle snake. He thrives on sizzling political temperatures, spine chilling political contexts and nerve wracking political maneuvers. The 2014 elections might be Pyari’s final adieu to Odisha politics and he knows that. By 2019 he would be just about inching to eighty years. Therefore, the coming elections would not only see him taking vengeance on Naveen but also signing off a politically chequered career on a winning note. He may not have the charisma of Naveen or the organizational base of the Congress but he sure has a “killer instinct” which is being mistaken today as his “failed coup instinct.” For Naveen, 2014 would be his fourth attempt at power, for Pyari it might be his last serious attempt at power. Knowing Pyari’s mindset, he would like to silence all the wagging tongues once for all. 2014 could well be Pyari’s or Naveen’s Waterloo but come what may, Pyari is set to influence 2014 elections, whether we like it or now.