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The Rediff Special / Tara Shankar Sahay

April 20, 2004

Full name
Biju Janata Dal

Brief history
When Biju Patnaik, the patriarch of Orissa politics, died in 1997, the state Janata Dal was disoriented. To keep the party united, Patnaik's Westernised and apolitical son Naveen (his elder brother and sister, novelist Gita Mehta, were disinterested) was made head of the state JD. But in December 1997, Naveen Patnaik, riding the crest of popular anti-Congress sentiment, split the party and formed the BJD by taking away 29 of the Janata Dal's 43 legislators.

Current president
Naveen Patnaik, who has retained the post ever since the BJD was formed.

Party's USP
Bijubabu's son has combined his father's considerable political clout with his own clean image. He has swept away dissidents with the broom of what is described as anti-corruption, something that has struck a chord with the people. His government's performance has been neither spectacular nor dismal and seasoned political observers contend that the BJP-BJD combine will retain power in the state.

That a political spring chicken like Naveen Patnaik has ruled Orissa for five years -- without speaking Oriya -- and is seeking another term says it all. His father's all-enveloping charisma and Naveen's ostensible determination to root out corruption have found considerable appeal, offsetting the chief minister's lack of political experience. The disunity in Opposition ranks, including vicious infighting in the state Congress party, has worked to the BJD's advantage.

The BJD leader's Anglicised manner (this is a man, after all, whose books Jacqueline Onassis used to edit!) coupled with his continuing inability to communicate in his native Oriya has befuddled critics and enraged detractors. His Westernised outlook has been widely pilloried though Patnaik contends that he is more concerned with delivering the goods to the people.

The chief minister has also been accused of falling back on his father's seemingly inexhaustible goodwill rather than making a break from the past and carving a niche for himself. Also, his dependence on his father's erstwhile principal secretary, retired IAS officer Pyarimohan Mahapatra, is seen as unwise.

Numbers in Parliament
The BJD was represented by 10 members in the outgoing 13th Lok Sabha and has 68 MLAs in the Orissa assembly. Like most regional parties, the BJD has encouraged the impression that it is against the Centre, while simultaneously buttressing the central government by supporting it at crucial junctures, just as the Telugu Desam Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have done.

Bolangir, Kalahandi, Koraput are all synonymous in the Indian mindset with grim poverty. Orissa is often seen as a state where hungry people sell their children to survive. After he is re-elected to power, Patnaik and the BJD need to come up with an aggressive strategy to bring development to one of the poorest states in the Indian Union. Nothing else matters.

Image: Rahil Shaikh

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