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Pyarimohan Mohapatra, the lonely Chanakya

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-05-2014 Asit Ranjan Mishra

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi: On a hot March afternoon in Odisha as the election season was catching up, if you passed by 111, Shahid Nagar, Bhubaneswar’s equivalent of Delhi’s Greater Kailash, chances were you would notice nothing significant.

Unless you paid close attention and knew that the residence belongs to Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who was once Odisha’s most powerful bureaucrat-turned-politician and was equally hated and revered by members of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the party in which he held sway to the extent that he was considered the de facto chief minister of Odisha.

As the closest confidant of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik during the last general and assembly election in 2009, BJD party workers and ticket aspirants used to make a beeline for Mohapatra’s Shahid Nagar residence, jamming the service lanes.

Starting with selecting candidates for corporation elections to Lok Sabha election to portfolios of ministers of the state cabinet, Mohapatra, often called the Chanakya to Patnaik, used to take every important decision of the party and state government. It is said that no important file moved to Patnaik without being vetted by Mohapatra.

But this was till 29 May 2012, the day Mohapatra was alleged to have attempted a failed coup against Patnaik while the latter was in London on official work. Mohapatra, however, denies all such charges.

It is 2014 and his residence bears a deserted look, no different than any ordinary residential area on a hot Summer afternoon in Odisha. Around 15-20 people are sitting silently on plastic chairs in the drawing room of Mohapatra, waiting a ticket of Mohapatra’s fledgling Odisha Jana Morcha party—with the kite as its electoral symbol.

One aspirant who had come from Athagarh assembly constituency in Cuttack district said he badly needs the party ticket as he has already spent Rs10-15 lakh in building his own organisational strength. Frustrated with the delay in clarity about his prospects, he says he may have to try his luck with some other party for an election ticket.

The aspirant who spoke under condition of anonymity said in last election in 2009, he had contested as an independent candidate. “This time my first preference is Mohapatra’s party because I know he has the money to fund his candidates.”

Mohapatra, however, says it is just a false rumour that he has a lot of money and that in reality he could hardly support financially all his 65 candidates contesting for the state Assembly out of the 147 seats or the two Lok Sabha hopefuls (out of 21 seats). “I was under tremendous pressure by the state machinery. I could not garner the necessary funds. The state government has declared an economic blockage against me. My house is under surveillance round-the-clock by the state vigilance department,” he said over telephone. In, 2010 while contesting on a BJD ticket for Rajya Sabha in which he still remains as a member, Mohapatra declared assets worth Rs1.9 crore.

On the alleged coup evening, which Mohapatra cites as “5/29” in 9/11 style, he says his only regret is he should not have got angry and called BJD assembly members to meet him. “I just wanted to defy Naveen Patnaik’s diktat to the BJD MLAs to not meet me. On hindsight, I should have attempted a coup and I know I would have succeeded.”

Mohapatra claims his relationship with Patnaik soured with his growing clout among party workers and because he pointed out in 2010 that the state government is not keeping its poll promise of creating employment opportunities in the state.

Does he think Patnaik would have missed his sound political advice? Mohapatra humbly says nobody should think himself as indispensable. “He (Patnaik) has a group of advisers now. There can be no power vacuum that can’t be filled up.”

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