Naveen Patnaik to play key role in government formation (Profile)

May 15th, 2009 - 5:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Jatindra Dash
Bhubaneswar, May 15 (IANS) Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is expected to play a key role in government formation after the Lok Sabha election results are out — besides retaining power in the state.

A washout verdict for his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) seems unlikely. On the other hand, analysts say, there is every chance that he may emerge on the national stage stronger than ever.

In a dramatic decision, Patnaik in March quickly and calmly parted ways with his long-time ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which helped him stay in power for two consecutive terms after the BJD’s birth in 1988.

Also breathtaking have been his dalliances with everyone from the Left to Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), while simultaneously dealing with the Congress in the shade.

At first glance, his seat-sharing arrangement in Orissa with the NCP and the Left appears cosmetic, even somewhat illogical, since none of them has any political presence worth the name in the state.

But analysts see a deeper motivation at work. Making common cause with the seeming lightweights of state politics would enable Patnaik to play a much bigger national role.

The question on everyone’s lips in Orissa is: will Patnaik retain power in the state, setting an all-time record of three consecutive electoral triumphs?

The 62-year-old, who entered politics after the death of his father Biju Patnaik in 1997, is confident he will pull through, not just in the state but also in the Lok Sabha, giving him more clout at the national level.

Orissa elects 21 members to the Lok Sabha and 147 members to the assembly. In the outgoing Lok Sabha and assembly, the BJD had 11 and 61 members respectively.

BJD leaders feel they could get about 80 assembly seats - six more than the magic number of 74 required to form the government. Besides, they could send around 12 members to the Lok Sabha.

Pre-poll surveys predict that Patnaik’s party will retain power with an absolute majority while winning as many Lok Sabha seats as it did in the 2004 election.

With a hung parliament - a distinct, indeed overwhelming, possibility, the role of regional parties could be critical in the formation of the government, allowing Patnaik to play a major role on the national stage.

A strong showing by the Left-sponsored Third Front remains Patnaik’s best bet. In such a scenario, he could, if the numbers work out to his advantage, even stand a chance of being a contender for the post of prime minister.

People close to him say this was a dream that his legendary father had nursed, but failed to realise.

“The days for the national parties are over, and regional parties would play a decisive role in the formation of the next government at the centre,” Patnaik said recently, underling his personal ambition.

He also said he was ready to consider NCP chief Sharad Pawar or any Communist leader as the next prime minister. But people close to him think this may not be the whole truth.

His credentials for the top job are second to none, argues one of them. An alumnus of Doon School and Delhi University, he has impeccable political pedigree, has travelled extensively round the world and consistently shown courage and decisiveness at key moments of his life and career.

If he wins the election here after two terms in the saddle, Patnaik can position himself for the prime minister’s job better than most others in the race.

Looking at the political history of Orissa, the Congress always forms the government if there are divisions in non-Congress votes. Besides a government that has continued for two consecutive terms often faces anti-incumbency. If that happens, analysts say Patnaik’s BJD may emerge as the single largest party but require the support of others to form the government.

“He has many options,” said political analyst Rabi Das, a former editor of a vernacular daily. “If he requires just a few members, he may strike a deal with independents. If he requires more he may forge an alliance looking at the numbers of the Congress and BJP, whichever is more convenient. But if the number of BJD members are below those of the Congress, Patnaik will be in deep trouble.”

In such a scenario, he may not be able to keep his own flock together and the BJD could disintegrate rapidly.

Analysts believe that as of now Patnaik appears to have got an assurance from the Congress that it will support him in case he fails to get a majority. This conclusion is based on the fact that the Congress has not fielded any of its chief ministerial candidates in the elections.

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