Sunday, March 8, 2009
Yesterday at around 9pm I received a call from my friend Chandan Mitra saying "It's all over. He's broken off the alliance". Chandan was camping in Bhubaneshwar and he was the BJP's point-man for negotiations with the BJD on seat-sharing.
It was a piece of news I had been dreading but also expecting at the same time. For the past six months the strains in the BJD-BJP relationship were evident to anyone who cared to look. The chemistry was all wrong. The BJD leaders perceived the BJP as upstarts with inflated egos; the BJP was visceral in its hatred of Naveen Patnaik--a man they could never understand.
Actually most people don't understand Naveen. He is a recluse and not prone to speaking out his mind. He can barely carry out a conversation in Oriya, although he understands it perfectly. He has infinite patience and doesn't believe in grandstanding. When he makes up his mind, it is based on cold calculation rather than flights of whimsy. An English friend always referred to Naveen as the "Oriyan serpent".
Naveen is so unlike his father. Biju Patnaik was the grand patriarch of Orissa. He was expansive, spoke out his mind fearlessly and had a terrible temper. Naveen is taciturn, cool and quietly purposeful. In 2001, on a visit to Orissa I told Naveen that his MLAs were scared of him. He feigned disbelief but I know he was quite tickled.
Actually, most normal politicians can't make head or tail of Naveen. His assumptions are so different from theirs. He has a profound sense of decency and a belief in right and wrong. For him, it was wrong to burn churches and molest nuns; it was wrong to loot the public exchequer; and it was wrong to be ostentatious. Naveen is a man of tastes. He is an aesthete. He is happiest talking culture, talking about fabrics and humming a Cole Porter song. To most politicians he is a creature from outer space.
Naveen is not temperamentally disloyal. He was provoked into looking for alternatives to the BJP and NDA. His defection has devastated the Advani campaign.
I hope Naveen wins a third term as Chief Minister. Politics is that much more interesting with him around.