All eyes on Patnaik as BJP looks to close wafer thin gap

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With the new President of India due to be elected in July this year, all eyes are on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who alone can ensure a smooth victory for the BJP-led NDA candidate.

Currently, the Opposition parties collectively have a 51.1 per cent share of the Electoral College while the BJP and its alliance partners have 48.9 per cent. The NDA needs only 1.2 per cent to cross the halfway mark.

With 21 MPs (12 in the Lok Sabha and nine in the Rajya Sabha) and 113 MLAs in the Odisha Assembly, the BJD has 3.22 per cent of the votes. So, the BJD is going to play a crucial role during the presidential election.

The BJD is yet to disclose its stand on the election for the top position in India. It will take a decision after the declaration of the candidates for the election.

“We are maintaining equidistant from both the NDA and UPA. Our party president has already made it clear the decision will be based on the merit of the presidential candidate,” BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty told IANS.

Though the ruling party in Odisha has not disclosed its cards, it had supported non-UPA candidates during the last two elections held in 2017 and 2012.

During the last presidential poll in 2017, Patnaik had supported NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind after receiving a call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

At that time, the BJD president had stated that the office of the President of India is above political considerations and the BJD wanted to keep it above politics.

Similarly, Patnaik was the first to propose the name of PA Sangma for the presidential election held in 2012 against UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee. In September 2020, he had supported NDA candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh in the election for the post of deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Besides, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD has extended its direct or indirect support to the Modi government during the passage of several important Bills in Parliament. The BJD had also supported BJP nominee Ashwini Vaishnaw for his elevation to the Rajya Sabha. Vaishnaw is now serving as a cabinet minister in the Modi government.

Local political analysts feel that Naveen Patnaik is very likely to support the NDA candidate in the presidential poll as he supported the Centre during several crucial times in the past few years.

“Naveen Patnaik is very approachable for the BJP in comparison to other non-UPA regional parties. So, the BJP may first approach Naveen, who is also very likely to extend his support to the central party for the presidential poll,” said senior journalist Rabi Das.

It seems that there is some understanding between the BJD and the BJP. Though Naveen has a good relationship with other regional party leaders like Mamata Banerjee and M.K. Stalin, he never attended the anti-BJP political meetings called by them, Das said.

On the other hand, he said, the BJP’s top leaders are also not attacking the BJD government like they do the West Bengal government.

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