New Delhi, Mar 4: Ending months of speculation, former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) lawmaker Baijayant Jay Panda on Monday joined BJP in presence of Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and senior party leader Arun Singh.
"Nine months of introspection and widespread consultations with colleagues and public, on the auspicious MahaShivratri day, I have decided to join BJP," he said. He also said his decision to join the saffron party is also to "work under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi" to serve Odisha and the country.
Mr Panda, who won the Kendrapara seat consecutively in 2009 and 2014, is likely to contest the fast approaching Lok Sabha polls from the same seat - but now on BJP ticket, sources said.
During both the previous elections the victory margins against Congress nominees have been more than two lakh - but the same was largely attributed to mass appeal of the BJD supremo and the state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Therefore, in more ways than one, political observers feel, both the BJP's support base and the personal voters' appeal of Mr Panda will be under test. The parliamentary constituency of Kendrapara has important assembly segments such as Salipur, Mahanga, Patkura, Kendrapara, Aul, Rajanagar and Mahakalapada.
Odisha is set to go for assembly elections along with the Parliamentary polls. It is also said Mr Panda had developed differences with local sitting BJD MLAs and also with the party chief Mr Patnaik.
While joining the BJP, Mr Panda also slammed his former party and said the governance under Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik has taken a nosedive decline. Often considered media savy, he was the spokesperson of the BJD's parliamentary party till he was removed in 2017 for allegedly criticising the party's performance in panchayat polls in which the BJP show had improved much.
Once regarded as the 'face of BJD' in Delhi especially electronic medium, Mr Panda has also often courted controversies in party circle for taking pro-Narendra Modi stance.
In 2016, after Mr Modi held a bilateral meeting with the US President Barack Obama, Mr Panda hailed it as a seminal and had said Modi's stewardship of foreign policy will have a sustainable effect on future generations.
When he quit BJD and resigned as MLA last year, Mr Panda had expressed disappointment at the fact that no major leader of the BJD had paid respects to his father, Bansidhar Panda, who also died around the same time. (UNI)