Earlier today, Tathagata Satpathy, chief whip of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Lok Sabha MP from the Dhenkanal constituency in Odisha, caused a stir when he tweeted out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was out to divide the regional party, and there was one lawmaker in particular who would orchestrate the split.
Satpathy conjectured that if the BJP managed a split in the BJD, even a small one, it would then call for early elections in Orissa. "BJP sez 'I promise to pay defector with new cash & ticket.' Wonder!" he tweeted.
Responding Sathpathy's tweets, Baijayant Jay Panda, another major BJD figure and the Lok Sabha MP from the Kendrapara constituency in Odisha, tweeted, "He speaks w/ expertise, having once been suspended from BJD & joined another party. I don't have such experience, so will defer to his."
The spat raised eyebrows because Satpathy and Panda are both heavyweights in their own right. The Assembly elections in Odisha are two years away. While the BJD spokesperson dismissed their remarks as "personal opinion," political observers said that the spat captures the ongoing turmoil in the party.
The Twitter exchange can be put down to an ego clash between Satpathy and Panda, with the former articulating the unease that many in the party feel over Panda's perceived closeness to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking on television recently on the implication of the UP Assembly poll results, Panda said, "Clearly, Mr. Modi is being seen as Mr. Development because he talks about it all the time. Now, there is longer any doubt that in national politics, BJP has become the central pillar, something that Congress used to be for many decades."
Speaking to HuffPost India, BJD spokesperson Deb Pratap said that he and not Satpathy was authorised to speak on behalf of the party. "The party does not endorse their opinions," Pratap said. "It is purely personal between them."
Bhubaneswar-based political scientist and former head of the political science department at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, Surya Narayan Misra told HuffPost India that Satpathy was neither close to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik nor to Modi. Misra thought that, through his tweet, Sathpathy probably hoped to "come closer to Patnaik and expose Panda's closeness to BJP and Modi." Misra also called the move premature.
However Misra said that Panda's going over to the BJP could not be ruled out. Patnaik looked at Panda and other powerful leaders with suspicion, leaving them with little room to grow. "There is a hidden split within the party," Misra said.
Other political observers pointed out that the spat exposed BJD's vulnerability after the party's poor performance in the Panchayat elections. In 2012, the ruling BJD had captured more than 650 out of 854 seats, followed by the Congress with 128 seats and the BJP with just 36 seats. This year, the BJD won again but the BJP increased its tally from 36 to 306 seats.
It is worth recalling that the BJP and BJD jointly fought two Assembly elections in 2000 and 2004, forming successive coalition governments in the state before their alliance ended in 2009. Misra said one faction of the BJD is interested in coming closer to the BJP, while others who may not fit into the new equation are opposed to it. "It is too early to say, but Orissa is a laboratory of political experiment," he said.
Political analyst Sudha Pai said that it was hard to imagine Panda joining the BJP but with leaders such as Rita Bahuguna Joshi of the Congress joining the BJP, anything was possible. "There are no ideological boundaries. Although, Hindutva is an ideological boundary, but Modi appears to attracts all sorts," she added.
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