Leaders give b’day a miss, Naveen gets jitters ahead of rally

The conspicuous absence of some senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders and ministers at Naveen Niwas to wish birthday greetings to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has set tongues wagging in the party circles, especially with his bete noire and Rajya Sabha MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra planning to hold a show-of-strength rally on October 28.

Sources in BJD said Patnaik, who turned 67 on Tuesday, was expecting a long queue of party leaders and ministers at his private residence. "He was expecting quite a crowd. But there were not too many unlike the previous birthdays," said a BJD leader. Patnaik's birthday comes just four months after the revolt in the party engineered by Mohapatra, who floated a new outfit Orissa Jana Morcha.

The surprise absentees included senior minister like health and family welfare minister Damodar Rout, former finance minister Prafulla Ghadei, finance minister Prasanna Acharya and senior leader A U Singh Deo.

However, most of the ministers from Naveen's home district Ganjam met him at his residence. Among the senior ministers who visited him are Panchayati Raj Minister Kalpataru Das. Several MPs too gave him a miss.

"There were not too many people today to wish him. But he normally keeps his birthday celebrations low-key," said Pradeep Panigrahi, BJD MLA from Berhampur, trying to explain the low attendance.

BJD sources said Acharya was away at Sambalpur while Rout deliberately kept away as he is miffed over being given a relatively "minor" department like health and family welfare. Party sources said Patnaik is worried that a large gathering at Mohapatra's rally may bring further trouble to his 15-year-old regional party. Mohapatra had a few days ago announced that over 50,000 people would attend his rally on October 28.

"We know that several BJD leaders at district-level are in touch with Mohapatra over the last 2-3 months. Though on his own he can't win, but he has the capacity to dent BJD base significantly as he knows the cogs of the party too well," said a BJD leader.

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