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Why Nobody Is Surprised That Odisha's Damodar Rout Has Found Himself Without a Party

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The Wire
18th October, 2019 16:00 IST

Bhubaneswar: Former minister and seven-time MLA from Odisha Damodar Rout has put in his resignation from the Bharatiya Janata Party barely seven months after he joined it. Political observers saw this coming as Rout, always an attention-seeker, had been complaining of neglect by the saffron leadership time and again.

In any case, his was an election-time ‘marriage of convenience’, fated to be short-lived with the controversial leader losing to his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) rival from Balikuda-Ersama.

The resignation has triggered speculation about Rout’s possible return to the BJD, the party he helped found following the death of his mentor, Biju Patnaik. But this seems highly unlikely given the fact that the veteran has been spewing venom against chief minister Naveen Patnaik since his expulsion from the party in 2018 in the wake of a string of controversial statements.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, but none stranger than Rout, a self-confessed votary of secularism, and the BJP, which he joined in March this year with the sole objective of exacting revenge against Naveen Patnaik, who he felt had humiliated him by expelling him from the party. Analysts said the move reeked of opportunism, but at that point of time it suited both Rout and the saffron party.

Also read: Mining in Odisha Has Stripped Locals of Access to Clean Air, Water

Rout, a compulsive motormouth, needed the support of a party with resources to translate his plans of seeking vengeance against Patnaik and his party into reality. The BJP, on the other hand, was desperately looking for big names to make its list of candidates look impressive. Contesting as an independent was not a good option for Rout, as he would have struggled to arrange the finances. So he decided to throw in his lot with the saffron party.

Both sides realised the complete ideological mismatch between them, but the need was mutual and also pressing. In fact, the BJP had kept its doors open for defectors from other parties and openly flaunted some of them. Rout fitted the BJP’s plans at the time. The party used him as a weapon against chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his government.

The former minister, who had worked closely both with Naveen and his father Biju, kept up a steady tirade against the state government. The media lapped up every word he said. The embarrassment was acute for the chief minister and his colleagues, with Rout targeting even the bureaucracy. The BJP suddenly had a potent weapon against Naveen and his party, and Rout was revelling in his new role as the “ destructor” of the BJD government and its head.

Since Rout, who had won 2009 and 2014 assembly elections from Paradip, was keen to contest from his traditional seat of Balikuda-Ersama, the BJP promptly gave him that ticket. Much to his chagrin, the former minister lost miserably, finishing third behind the Congress. “People of the constituency realised that Rout’s move to contest on a BJP ticket was opportunism of the worst kind. He appeared to have forgotten the ideals he had lived for all his life. The people rejected him,” says former Congress MLA Lalatendu Mohapatra, who came second in the contest behind BJD’s Raghunandan Das.

Also read: More Ally Than Enemy: BJP And BJD’s Strange Connection in Odisha

As for the BJP, it must be happy to get rid of Rout, as the former minister seems to have served the purpose for which he was hired. The party has rejected his charge of neglect by the leadership. State party in-charge Arun Singh said, “The allegation that he was being neglected is baseless. Why should anyone wait for an invitation to take part in party’s programmes? It is your party.”

Former BJP MLA Pradeep Purohit said that Rout appeared to be making baseless allegations against the party out of sheer frustration. “Perhaps he has not been able to digest his defeat in the election. He is a senior leader and was treated fairly by the BJP leadership. He should not be saying such things,” added Purohit.

Though Rout’s son, Sambit Routray, the present MLA from Paradip, has admitted that it was a mistake on the part of his father to have joined the BJP and his daughter, Pritinanda, indicated that the family would be happy to see him back in the BJD, the party is unlikely to welcome him in a hurry, given his past record. The former minister has earned the sobriquet ‘stormy petrel’ because of the numerous controversies he has courted.

Within the BJD, he had several run-ins with senior leaders including his arch rival from Jagatsinghpur, Bishnu Das, a Dalit who was incensed by Rout’s uncharitable remarks against his community. He had also engaged in verbal duels with former Cuttack-Barabati MLA Debashish Samntray, who he thought was eyeing the Paradip seat and was conspiring against him in league with Bishnu Das.

Rout’s most famous battle, however, was with bureaucrat-turned-politician late Pyarimohan Mohapatra, during the days when the latter used to run the BJD on behalf of chief minister Naveen. At a time when no one in the party dared challenge Mohapatra, who was known as Naveen’s Chanakya, Rout had openly defied his call for ministers being made accountable to the party. Naveen had to personally intervene to prevent the two leaders from issuing statements against each other, as it was causing embarrassment to the party.

Rout was finally done in by his tendency to put his foot in his mouth. He was dropped from the Naveen cabinet in 2017 and also removed from the post of BJD vice-president for making derogatory remarks against Brahmins, something he later denied, but not convincingly.

Turning bitter, he started taking potshots at chief minister Naveen Patnaik and was expelled from the party in 2018. “He is reaping what he had sown. None but he himself is responsible for what has happened to him. His fate is a lesson for others,” said BJD general secretary Bijay Nayak, indicating that chances of Rout returning to the party appeared remote, at least for the time being.

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