BJD agreed to only ‘cooperate’ with Third Front: Jay Panda (Interview)

March 17th, 2009 - 6:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Neerja Chowdhury
New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) Orissa’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which snapped its 11-year-old ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says it has only agreed to “cooperate” with the Third Front.

“There is no formal Third Front in place but we have agreed to cooperate with the non-BJP, non-Congress parties,” Jay Panda, BJD MP and the right-hand man of Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, said in an interview.

Summing up the BJD’s stance regarding the formation of a third alternative, Panda said his party would collaborate with other groups for “a seat-sharing arrangement, for campaigning (together) and for the post-election formation of a non-BJP and non-Congress government”.

He reiterated Patnaik’s stand that the BJD would not be a part of any government led by the Congress or the BJP.

Panda, a Rajya Sabha member, was deputed by Patnaik to represent the BJD at the Sunday parleys held at the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) headquarters in Delhi and the dinner hosted by Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati for the leaders of the Third Front.

Making a case for “a step at a time” approach, Panda hedged the tricky issue of who would be the leader of the Third Front.

“It will be dealt with in due course,” he said.

He dismissed the speculation gaining ground that Patnaik was also positioning himself for the prime minister’s post, like other regional leaders, in case the Third Front made it in the elections.

“Naveen Patnaik has himself stated that he wishes to continue to serve the people of Orissa as chief minister,” Panda insisted.

He said he wanted to clear up a common misconception that Patnaik was not a self-made man.

“Biju Patnaik’s (Naveen’s father) children had no connection with politics when he was alive, and instead led accomplished lives in their own right.”

He continued: “When Naveen gave up life as an author and entered politics, after Biju Babu’s death, he might have initially benefited from a sympathy wave, but has thereafter had to make his own way for 11 years in a very tough environment.”

“It is ironical how many of those who marvel at him today routinely predicted his political demise in the early years.”

Panda rubbished the BJP’s claim that Patnaik’s decision to delink with the BJP after a partnership of 11 years would benefit the Congress and prove to be costly for the BJD.

“Ask anyone in Orissa and you’ll get (the) feedback that Naveen Patnaik’s popularity has gone from strength to strength, while the BJP and Congress have suffered several setbacks,” Panda said.

“Besides surveys and opinion polls, the public’s mood was demonstrated in recent statewide local elections. Even without an alliance, the BJD won more than two thirds of those seats in most areas,” he pointed out.

Panda went on: “But the BJP, particularly their state unit, have refused to acknowledge these ground realities and were insisting on contesting a large number of seats where they were sure to lose, which defeats the very purpose of an alliance.”

“We were prepared to be pragmatic and flexible, but not suicidal. But the BJP was stuck in a time warp.”

Putting the blame for the breakup squarely on the BJP, Panda said that “a middle ground could have been possible but they refused to accept it”.

The BJP, he felt, had “misjudged the ground realities in Orissa and made a tactical error by sticking to a collision course”.

Patnaik also had to contend with “widespread pressure within the BJD” not to give into the BJP’s demands.

Panda expressed confidence that his party would get a two-third majority in the assembly elections, being held concurrently with the Lok Sabha polls, and “many more than the 11 Lok Sabha seats” the party held at present.

“We will now be free to contest many more seats,” the BJD leader said.

Speaking of the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, which is supposed to have triggered off the differences between the two parties, he said: “Many of those arrested belonged to organisations like the Bajrang Dal.”

Panda himself had described the violence as a “blot on Orissa’s image”.

He said: “These organisations then organised protests against the state government, which saw the unusual situation of BJP ministers in the state participating in them.”

“But the CM (chief minister) made it very clear that none of this would affect governance, and it didn’t.”

On the BJD’s differences with the Left parties, now that they are being embraced by Patnaik, on issues such as the setting up of a mega steel plant by South Korean major POSCO, Panda said: “They (the Left parties) have clarified that they don’t have fundamental objections to these projects like POSCO which are bringing in much needed investment to Orissa.

They have “certain specific concerns. We will address these concerns in a friendly atmosphere”.

Having sat through the meetings last Sunday, Panda said he had got the impression that this time the Third Front leaders were particularly “conscious” and “cautious” of not raising too many expectations too quickly and were going about things in a mature way.

“It is like a process of osmosis, of things coming together gradually.”

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