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In a significant development for Odisha politics, former president Pranab Mukherjee, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury and a host of Opposition leaders are set to share stage at an event to release a pictorial biography of former Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on January 27. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is currently faced with a resurgent BJP in the state. Naveen is also trying to counter the BJP’s efforts to claim the legacy of his father Biju Patnaik. BJD Lok Sabha MP Bhartruhari Mahtab told Business Standard that the pictorial biography of Biju Patnaik’s life has been put together by the Biju Patnaik centenary committee. “The book contains rare photographs of Biju babu’s life,” Mahtab said. He confirmed that Mukherjee will be the chief guest at the event, and release the book. Advani will be the guest of honour. He also confirmed having invited Yechury. Mahtab pointed out that apart from Atal Bihari Vajpayee and George Fernandes, Advani is a surviving Cabinet colleague of Biju Patnaik from the Janata Party government of 1977. Vajpayee and Fernandes are unwell and keep away from public life. Sources in the office of former president Mukherjee confirmed that he will attend the event. Janata Dal (Secular) spokesperson Danish Ali said party leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has also been invited. “Naveen Patnaik is slated to travel to Bengaluru to invite him on January 14,” Ali said. Sources in the Opposition camp said it was unusual for Naveen Patnaik to be reaching out to other leaders.
Even after severing his alliance with the BJP in the run up to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the Odisha Assembly polls, which take place simultaneously, Naveen had stayed away from efforts at non-Congress and non-BJP third front unity. Similarly, he had kept away from the Left’s efforts in 2014 to bring all the regional parties on one platform.Opposition sources said Naveen’s guest list has been prepared with an eye on the forthcoming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. “Advani might be a BJP leader, but there is no secret about his differences with the current leadership of his party. The BJP’s Odisha unit would find it hard to counter Advani praising Biju Patnaik and the BJD is sure to milk it electorally,” said an Opposition leader, who didn’t want to be named. The BJD would similarly highlight Mukherjee’s presence, and underline that Biju Patnaik was not only in the Congress for several years, but was trusted by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In the Janata Party cabinet, Biju Patnaik was the Cabinet minister for steel, mines and coal. Vajpayee was the external affairs minister, Fernandes the industries minister and Advani had the information and broadcasting portfolio. Several other Opposition leaders are also likely to be invited for the event. The Biju Janata Dal marked Biju Patnaik’s birth centenary in 2016-17.