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State Scan

The Pyari effect

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POWER TRIP: Patnaik flanked by Indian industrialists during his London visit in May

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik would not have imagined in the wildest of dreams that his maiden foreign trip, after assuming power in the state in 2000, would snare him in a web of political intrigue. Barely had he landed in London to embark on his nine-day visit starting May 22 when human rights activists in the city were up in arms questioning his preference for private industrial projects at the cost of common people especially tribals. Scared to face them he scrapped his public lecture on Odisha's development, scheduled at a seminar at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) near Brighton.

But that drew no comfort for him as his telephone kept ringing, warning him of attempts to dethrone him back home. What scared him even more was the report that the coup leader was none else than his erstwhile Man Friday, Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who many considered Odisha's de facto CM for the past 12 years and whom Patnaik not only consulted before putting his signature on any file but left the BJD to him to do whatever he wanted in order to make it into an invincible regional party. He frantically called Pyari and demanded to know what he was up to. If Pyari is to be believed, he tried to convince him that niether did he lust for the CM's post nor was he gathering MLAs to show his strength.

But an insecure Patnaik was far from convinced. Cutting short his visit he flew back to Bhubaneswar on May 31 to quell the revolt. He has since dismissed three ministers, suspended two MLAs and also Pyari (Rajya Sabha MP) from the party. But, if BJD insiders are to be believed, an uneasy calm continues to hover over the party. Some party members say that Patnaik's tough action has doused the fire. There are others, however, who read the post-mutiny stillness as a lull before another storm. What particularly worries them is the May 29 visit of 33 MLAs and some ministers to Pyari's house, where the much-hyped 'oust-Naveen ' plan purportedly took shape. "The fact that he managed to get so many MLAs to his residence indicates the growing frustration amongst MLAs in the party. It is not a good sign, " says a senior BJD leader.

The rise of Pyari, a retired IAS officer and former secretary to Biju Patnaik who was the CM in the early 1990s, in Odisha's political scene at the turn of the millennium when he became the most trusted lieutenant of Naveen Patnaik saw many old veterans in the party vanish. Pyari, like a tsunami, spread his influence in all spheres of the administration and the BJD. The Patnaik-Pyari duo proved so formidable that Odisha now appears bereft of any politician worthy of challenging the CM. The mighty Patnaik-Pyari even reduced both the opposition parties - the Congress and the BJP - to a state of disarray.

Now that they are at daggers drawn, Odisha is set to move on a different political course. Patnaik has described Pyari as a 'beimaan' (betrayor). Pyari, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that he was hatching a conspiracy to overthrow Patnaik and has announced that he will not take this humiliation lying down. His statement has sparked fears in the BJD that he would, and has, the potential to strike back.

At the same time, there are rumours doing the rounds that the Patnaik-Pyari collision is nothing but a well-scripted drama, enacted in public, keeping the 2014 assembly elections in mind. Some people in the party are of the view that Patnaik's clean image has taken a severe beating because of a series of allegations of scams and poor administration. There is also speculation that Patnaik has been trying to re-establish contact with the BJP to return to the NDA, ostensibly to shore up his prospects of returning to power for the fourth time. The BJP would be more than willing for a patch-up as the NDA, desperate to return to power at the Centre, could stand to benefit through the revived equations.

"Pyarimohan's image has all along been that of a 'bad cop'. He had himself announced that he adopted this strategy - the bad cop helping the good cop for the latter's benefit - with Patnaik and that it had proved successful. Now, that Pyari is out of the scene Patnaik can use the development to reach out to the BJP-led NDA and rope in ousted Biju-followers for future political gains, " says a senior BJD leader.

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