On choice between BJP and Congress, Naveen Patnaik says options open this election season

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New Delhi | Published: April 15, 2019 12:52:52 PM

Seeking his fifth term in power as Chief Minister, the popular leader is banking on the success of schemes

lok sabha elections, lok sabha elections 2019Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik

Having successfully shrugged off the tag of an outsider parachuted into the state’s politics at 51 years of age, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has positioned his party as one which maintains equal distance from the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Congress. However, with regional parties expected to play the role of a kingmaker if the BJP-led NDA could fall short of the required numbers to form a government this Lok Sabha election, Patnaik says he is open to extending support to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

In an interview to the Hindustan Times, Patnaik said that the Biju Janata Dal has already made it clear in its manifesto that it will support “whoever commits to fulfilling the just needs of Odisha”. He repeated it in an interview to India Today, maintaining that his party is equally distant from the BJP as well as the Congress.

Patnaik has been successful at keeping the Congress, its primary opponent for many years in the state, at bay. Seeking his fifth term in power as Chief Minister, the popular leader is banking on the success of schemes aimed at mothers and urban slum-dwellers as well as farmers to gain the edge against a dwindling Congress and a resurgent BJP in the state.

With the Odisha Assembly elections being held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls, Patnaik is hoping that his popularity coupled with Congress’ downfall in the state will keep him ahead of the BJP, thereby making him a key to government formation at the Centre as well. While the BJD is in a contest against the BJP as well as the Congress in the state, Patnaik has kept everyone guessing over which way his support will swing in case of a hung verdict.

A look at the recent past, however, reveals that his actions have spoken louder than his words. In 2018, Patnaik’s BJD had staged a walkout during a no-confidence motion brought by the Opposition against the Narendra Modi government. In 2016, Patnaik had openly supported the Centre’s demonetisation decision, saying it was a decisive attack against black money.

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In his interview with HT, Patnaik reiterated his support to the demonetisation decision, though admitting that it was poorly implemented leading to hardships for common people. When asked to comment on his recent remark that Modi did not deserve a second chance as Prime Minister, the Odisha CM clarified that he wasn’t referring to the PM but commenting on the prospects of the NDA’s return.

Patnaik’s remarks and his refusal to attack Modi directly assume significance if seen in the context of a hung Lok Sabha where the role of regional players will be key if the NDA fails to reach the magic figure in the 543-strong House. Like Patnaik, prominent leaders like Telangana CM K Chandrasekar Rao and YSRCP leader Jagan Mohan Reddy are keeping their options open. Crucially, these leaders have maintained distance from a coalition of opposition parties. Come May 23 and their word could be the factor that decides the nation’s fortune for the next five years.

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