Breaking his silence on family friend and a former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member Baijayant 'Jay' Panda, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik listed out three main reasons for severing ties with the Kendrapara MP in an exclusive interview to ANI.
Patnaik alleged that a rumour campaign was spearheaded by Mr Panda that came as a "shock" to the former.
When asked on the sequence of events that led to the estrangement of the former family friends, Naveen Patnaik mentioned three instances that led to Panda quitting the BJD and shifting alliances to the BJP. "I was pursuing the development of railways in Kendrapara. It is the only district in the coast which has no rail development. A former Railways Minister laughed and said that 'you are pursuing development of railways in Kendrapara but your MP (Jay Panda) is only concerned about railway development to his mining companies.' This shocked me," exclaimed Naveen Patnaik.
He went on to add that this was just the first instance where he felt let down by the Kendrapara MP. There was a second incident that further soured relations. "After 2014, a number of my friends from Delhi rang up very concerned because they thought I was in bad health. But my health has always been good and I told them so. They told me that this is what Baijayant Panda was spreading. This was a shock," said the Odisha CM in an interview to ANI.
On April 5, Naveen Patnaik's office released an exercise video of the Odisha CM working out in his residence to counter what they allege was a whisper campaign mounted by the BJP to portray the CM's health in a negative light. Patnaik now has gone a step ahead and blamed Baijayant Panda directly for spearheading this rumour campaign.
In his interview, Naveen Patnaik listed a third reason which led the Patnaik-Panda relationship to a point of no return.
"He (Baijayant Panda) wanted to be Chairman of the Parliamentary Finance Committee.Our party did not have sufficient numbers so he thought he would get the support of the BJP. I didn't think this was a good idea and I didn't support him because of the financial dealings of his company. I didn't think this would be a good precedent," said Naveen Patnaik.
He also questioned the credibility of companies owned by Mr Panda. "Their companies have always had a shady reputation," added Patnaik.
Baijayant Jay Panda, who is currently campaigning in Kendrapara under the BJP flag, is pulling out all the stops to retain this crucial Lok Sabha seat. Panda, who was recently elevated in the BJP to the post of Vice President, refuted allegations against his companies in past media interactions and denied any conflict of interest during his time as an MP that could have benefited his companies or those run by his family.
Voting for the Kendrapara constituency is to be held in the fourth phase of polling on April 29. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be campaigning for Jay Panda on April 22.
When asked if he tried to reach out to Jay Panda for a possible rapprochement, Patnaik said that he did but it did not work. "He (Jay Panda) has big political ambitions. He started doing a number of anti-party activities and he was strongly leaning towards the BJP...that's how it all ended," said Naveen Patnaik in an interview to ANI.
He also said that PM Modi was looking to make a "dent" in the East of India in these Lok Sabha elections but he would not succeed in doing so in Odisha. When asked on the nature of his relationship with PM Modi, Patnaik said that he had a "perfectly civil" relationship with the Prime Minister.
Naveen Patnaik also added that he had never met Rahul Gandhi and that the close relationship his father Biju Patnaik and the Gandhi family once enjoyed did not carry into the next generation. He stressed post the Lok Sabha polls, the BJD would support any party which took care of the interests of Odisha.