Jajati Karan is senior correspondent, Odisha, with CNN-IBN.
Though Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the BJD MP and chief advisor to Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, was at the helm of affairs in the BJD for more than a decade, he held his first press conference on May 30, 2012. Some of the claims he made, mentioned below, in this hurriedly convened press conference could baffle even a novice in politics. As his attempted political coup against Naveen Patnaik failed, the question which many are now asking is: How could the 'Chanakya' of BJD commit such a blunder?
Claim one: Pyari claimed that more than 90 per cent of the BJD candidates who got elected as MLAs in the last 2009 Assembly polls were recommended by him. If he would have wished to be the CM, he could have easily become so because Naveen Patnaik did not even know most of the MLAs.
Pyari Mohan Mohapatra addresses the press after the failed political coup
Fact one: The 2009 mandate was completely in favour of Naveen Patnaik's image in the state. The biggest testimony to this fact is that many of those 'recommended' MLA candidates did not even have the charisma of becoming a 'sarpanch' but defeated several Congress stalwarts in the Assembly polls banking on Naveen's image. Pyari could not have possibly become the chief minister, going completely against the public mandate, even if the MLAs had supported him. This would have meant nothing less than chaos and dictatorship of sorts which is not tolerated in our democratic set up.
Claim two: Pyari's second claim was that it was the party's organisation built and managed by him that won Naveen the Assembly polls; the chief minister's personal image had very little contribution to the victory.
Fact two: The Congress has a better grass root organisation in Odisha which could be mobilised overnight. But the party is losing all elections for the last one decade in the state because the party lacks leadership and a credible face in the state that could match that of Naveen.
Claim three: "No one has the guts to expel or suspend me from the party," Pyari dared Naveen in the press conference. He quoted the party by laws according to which a suspension or expulsion have to be ratified by the state executive of the party which has not met for the last 29 months.
Fact three: Where were these party by laws when actions were taken against a number of party leaders. On several occasions, these were taken under Pyari's advice to party president Naveen.
The house where the plot was hatched
Claim four: Pyari tried to clarify that 33 MLAs, including 3 ministers, met at his residence till late night to discuss the discontentment over party affairs and draw up a strategy on the Odisha Bandh that was called to protest petrol price hike.
Fact four: It was a clear coup attempt in absence of Naveen Patnaik who was on an official tour to UK. The number of rebel MLAs never went above 33 and after late night their numbers sharply fell as most of the 'discontented' MLAs showed up at Naveen Niwas the next morning. Pyari's last hope went in vain when several Congress MLAs, as per the plan, did not turn up to his support apparently because Sonia Gandhi did not give them the go ahead. Pyari had no option but to abort the coup and call a press conference the next morning to make a temporary truce of sort.
Many in the party believe that Pyari's blunder of attempting a coup was a result of his frustration and anger that was piling up over the past one year when the chief minister began to depend less and less on his advice and himself took important political decisions. There were reports that at several political meetings during the Panchayat elections held in the state few months ago, the candidates had put up big hoardings of Pyari as their leader and not that of Naveen.
When Naveen visited these places during the poll campaign, he could sense the rising influence of Pyari in the party and decided to cut him to size. The sweeping results of the Panchayat polls in favour of Naveen Patnaik gave him enough confidence to do away with Pyari sooner rather than later.
Pyari could feel that his days in the party were numbered and according to his own words at the press conference, "all his hard work for the party for last 12 years went in vain". According to a top BJD minister, all hell broke loose when Pyari was recently ridiculed in the Parliament lobby by few MPs and senior journalists that Naveen has made him the 'Amar Singh' of Odisha and he has become irrelevant in state politics.
The good old times
A furious Pyari dashed back to Bhubaneswar and in the city airport itself gave enough indication to the media for the first time how he has been ignored by Naveen. This frustration led to anger and the anger led to the blunder - blunder by none other than a man who has a sharp political brain and considered by many as the 'Chanakya' of Odisha politics.
Having said all these, Pyari's contribution to the party cannot be ignored. It was he who saved Naveen in the initial years of his political career from the wrath of the political conspiracy hatched by several of his rivals in the party like Bijoy Mohapatra, Late Nalini Kanta Mohanty, Dilip Ray and Ramkrushna Patnaik. Pyari, using his sharp political acumen, not just foiled the conspiracy and removed these stalwarts from the BJD but made them so politically irrelevant that they are suffering till date. The irony is the man who saved Naveen from a possible coup almost a decade ago had to try one the himself.
This attempted coup by Pyari is a big wake up call for Naveen. He has to realise that he cannot remain the king of good times for long if he himself does not take the affairs of his party organisation into his own hands and have direct interaction with the party leaders at the grass root level and be more accessible and personal with the party workers.
There are several factors which still work towards Naveen's advantage in Odisha politics and the biggest of them is a weak Opposition. The Congress has several factions and is without any credible face to lead the party. The Congress has failed to counter Naveen's public image of being a clean and simple man.
But it does not take much time in politics for the tide to change. Pyari's overnight coup could not touch the magic figure of 74 MLAs as most of the BJD MLAs realised that if the govt was immediately dissolved as reportedly threatened by Naveen over the phone and elections are held, it would be difficult for them to win without the Naveen brand. It's the mandate of the people that still seems to be with Naveen that has saved him of this possible coup.