‘Rajya Sabha should act as a caution but not have ability to veto … Naveen Patnaik has cleverly played BJP and Congress in Odisha’

Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda was a four-time MP who served as member of several parliamentary standing committees before quitting Biju Janata Dal and his Lok Sabha seat of Kendrapara after differences with Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. The author of ‘Lutyen’s Maverick’, he spoke to Nalin Mehta on ideas for reforming Parliament and prospects of forming a new party in Odisha ahead of general elections
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Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda was a four-time MP who served as member of several parliamentary standing committees before quitting Biju Janata Dal and his Lok Sabha seat of Kendrapara after differences with Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. The author of ‘Lutyen’s Maverick’, he spoke to Nalin Mehta on ideas for reforming Parliament and prospects of forming a new party in Odisha ahead of general elections

 

Why do you think the role of Rajya Sabha needs to be changed?

We must modernise the rules of Parliament in line with other democracies. Our Parliamentary rules were based on the late 19th century models of the UK and US. They have themselves changed quite a lot. The Italians and the Australians have also changed.

Sometimes there can be a mood in the nation which is very rash or like mob mentality. Rajya Sabha, since it is indirectly elected, should have the power to caution and slow down legislation so that cooler heads can prevail to prevent a rash decision but they should not be able to veto the will of the people. Today, they are able to veto anything by Lok Sabha. In the UK, the upper house has the ability to stop a bill for one year. During that one year, if the mood still prevails that certain legislation should pass, then it should happen.

You also argue for ‘one nation, two elections’. Why change?

We have a continual election cycle like no other country in the world. Every two to three months, the country has a major state election which becomes a national referendum. It bogs down the government and opposition. We have one of the world’s lowest ratios of governance-to-campaigning. We are always campaigning politically and not enough time is given to governance. The Westminster model was meant for a small, homogenous country like UK.

This is different from Prime Minister Modi’s argument for ‘One Nation One Election’.

Within a five year period, there should be at least one checkpoint to gauge the mid-term mood. This is very-well enshrined in the US system where the lower house goes to election every two years and it is aligned with the mid-term cycle of the presidential election. The problem with “One Nation, One Election” is: what happens if a state doesn’t get a majority? Does it go for four-five years without an election, or do you have another election which is out of sync? It is practically much better to have two election cycles and has been tried in other large countries, like US.

Will you form your own party in Odisha now? Or will you join BJP?

My decision is at the final stage now. A lot of people falsely attributed motives to me for quitting BJD. They predicted that I would very quickly join a particular party. That has not happened. It has been seven months. My decision is going to be based on what is good for Odisha. Whoever is willing to bring about a change to fight violence and corruption, I am willing to join hands with them.

Naveen Patnaik has very cleverly played BJP and Congress against each other, convincing both that nobody should fight BJD lest their opponent will grow. Twenty years ago, when BJD was founded, Congress was still number one but slipped to third position in Odisha because it did not aggressively fight its case. BJP today is making the same mistake. Unless anyone is serious in bringing about change in Odisha, it doesn’t make sense for me to align with anybody.

Starting a new party is not a small thing. There are many in Odisha who want me to consider that option. We are exploring and have not taken a final decision.

But how do you explain Naveen Patnaik’s continuing political longevity in Odisha? It has few parallels in Indian politics.

There are very few parallels to the phenomenon of Naveen Patnaik. One of the reasons Naveen’s image grew so dramatically was because in the initial two terms BJD took very strong action against corruption. Odisha had seen a period of heavy crime and corruption in the 1980-90s and Naveen at that point came as a breath of fresh air. He took strong actions, dropped cabinet colleague, had IAS officers arrested and had very powerful business people arrested for corruption. That consolidated his image as Mr Clean. What has happened to the BJD in the last five years is the tragedy.

In the last 5 years, Naveen has delegated matters to a new group of people. They were not on the scene when the party was being built. One or two people are running the show and have no accountability to the public. Opinion polls are now showing a very sharp downward trend. Although today, Naveen still has goodwill, his popularity is at its lowest ever compared to any time in the past 19 years.

BJD itself has been far less popular than Naveen. Naveen’s popularity and his tireless campaigning earlier bailed out BJD in many marginal seats. This time that won’t be so easy because he himself is facing incumbency.





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