‘PM’ who tried to outgrow CM
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"It is PM who has stabbed me," Bijoy Mohapatra had roared before a cheering audience in his home constituency of Patkura 2000, choosing not to target Naveen Patnaik after he had been dumped from the BJD ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Bijoy Mohapatra, who was chairman of the BJD's political affairs committee, is now a member of the BJP national executive.
Today, "PM" is being accused once again of backstabbing, and the target this time is Orissa Chief Minister Naveen himself.
Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, 72, bureaucrat-turned-politician, tried on Tuesday night to garner BJD MLAs in an apparent bid to overthrow Naveen while he was out of the country. The ploy failed as the MLAs deserted him, forcing him to announce in the morning that they had met him at his residence to discuss the "growing resentment in the party over organisational matters".
Over the past few months, Piyari Mohan Mohapatra has been heard bitterly complaining that his 12 years of perseverance have come to nought, a reference to his loss of trust in Naveen.
Till 2011, an attempted coup would have been unimaginable from a man who was almost as powerful as the chief minister. Indeed, the joke among partymen was that it was not the CM who was in charge, but "PM".
Known widely in Orissa as Naveen's mentor and adviser since 2000, the bespectacled "PM", also called "Pyari babu", was the man who calculated each of the leader's moves. His hand and its meticulously planned moves were behind not only Bijoy Mohapatra's expulsion in 2000 but also the dumping of the BJP just ahead of the 2009 polls, followed by a spectacular victory.
A 1963-batch IAS officer, he was secretary to Naveen's father Biju Patnaik during the latter's tenure as chief minister between 1994 and 1995. In those days, it was impossible for anyone to meet the chief minister without Pyari babu's consent. Though he was tipped to become chief secretary, he could not make it as the Janata Dal regime changed and Mohapatra found himself cooling his heels as director general of Gopabandhu Academy of Administration in Bhubaneswar, a punishment posting.
After Biju Patnaik's death in 1997, Naveen's mother told him to seek the advice of Mohapatra as he was one of the "few trusted men in Orissa". In 1999, two years after the BJD was formed, P M Mohapatra joined as a primary member. As Naveen started consulting him over every matter of politics and governance, the relationship strengthening day by day. In 2004, Naveen sent Mohapatra to the Rajya Sabha on BJD ticket.
By this time, Mohapatra had acquired a larger-than-life image in the party with bureaucrats queuing up before his house for orders on some policy issues.
"Yes, I used to offer him advice on governance. But he also listened to others," Mohapatra says. BJD insiders recount that every morning and afternoon, Mohapatra would fax "to do" tasks to Naveen's residence. In the evening, Naveen would send a car to pick up Mohapatra, after which the two would be driven around, in deep discussion, for the next few hours.
The high point in their bond came when Naveen took Mohapatra's advice to dump the BJP. Mohapatra was uncomfortable about continuing with such an alliance after the 2008 Kandhamal riots. Naveen initially hesitated because of the possible repercussions in the elections but Mohapatra assured him the BJD would win comfortably. And the BJD swept the polls, defying predictions of a hung Assembly.
It was after the 2009 polls that the relationship began to go downhill. And this, party sources say, was because Mohapatra tried to project himself as the most important leader of the party, basking in the glory of the victory. In several public meetings, cutouts of Mohapatra were as large of those as Naveen, often causing heartburn to the Chief Minister. Their regular phone calls stopped, and soon all that remained between them was a few "courtesy calls".
The strongest evidence of the cracks showed when Naveen announced the name of Ranendra Pratap Swain as the party's candidate in Athagarh Assembly bypoll early this year. Mohapatra was dead against Swain getting the ticket. He had, in fact, played a key role in the events that disqualified Swain from contesting the 2009 poll from that seat.
Naveen snubbed Mohapatra again in March this year, when he campaigned alone in the panchayat election and single-handedly supervised the election of chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of zilla parishads and panchayat samitis. This was a job where Mohapatra's supervision used to be taken for granted.
The next nail in the coffin of their friendship came when Naveen announced the names of three Rajya Sabha candidates after consultation with MPs such as Pinaki Mishra and Baijayant Panda, whose equations with Mohapatra are far from friendly. And what was possibly the last straw came when Naveen unilaterally announced the BJD's support for former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma as a presidential candidate after consulting Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa.
Several other indications of the rift had shown in between, such as a denial of the circuit house to Mohapatra, which amounted to a humiliation. A miffed Mohapatra told reporters last week that the romance between them has gone cold as it normally does in any relationship.
Naveen did not make much of Mohapatra's anger. And the coup failed when MLAs once close to Mohapatra instead announced Naveen as their undisputed leader.
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