The new political alignments in Orissa are not a sudden development. Low-key consultations between Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik and Communist Party of India - Marxist politburo member Sitaram Yechury had been on even before March 5, though it was on that day the two leaders spoke to each other directly.
However, the two leaders decided not to interact for the next few days fearing that their high-profile meetings would alert the Bharatiya Janata Party and might hamper Patnaik's game plan.
On March 5 -- also Naveen's father Biju Patnaik's birthday -- both Yechury and Patnaik were in Paradip. The CPI-M leader addressed a meeting of the Paradip port workers' union at the coastal town of Orissa. Naveen was holding a separate programme to commemorate the day. At the meeting, Yechury spent a lot of time remembering Biju Patnaik.
In fact, the CPI-M had been trying to woo Naveen Patnaik for the last two years. The communal upsurge in Orissa, which started with the killing of Graham Staines in 1999, turned worst during the Kandhamal riots in 2007.
After the Kandhamal violence, the CPI-M interlocutors asked Patnaik repeatedly why was he "providing cover and patronage to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh"? When the second spate of violence occurred after the killing of Laxmanand Saraswati, Patnaik indicated to the Left leaders that he would not continue with the BJP. He also said he was waiting for the 'right opportunity'.
The CPI-M- leadership feels that soon after the Kandhamal violence, Patnaik was not sure whether his party has a future without the BJP. But recently, when his party fought the civic polls in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack independently and won both, "it gave confidence to Patnaik and he decided to dump the BJP," said a senior Left leader.
The Left points out that many of the members of his core time, like Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Prasanna Patasani or Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra, have their background in socialist and democratic movements. "Patasani was earlier in the Students' Federation of India," pointed out a Left leader, "so even a section of his party was pressurising Patnaik to snap ties with the BJP."
While Patnaik has not formally announced that he is joining the Third Front, the CPI-M and the BJD have started the initial discussion on a possible seat-sharing arrangement. According to Left sources, Patnaik had agreed to give five Lok Sabha seats and 35 assembly seats to the BJP. The Left wants Patnaik to distribute the same number of seats between the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha the CP-M, the Communist Party of India and the Nationalist Congress Party in the upcoming Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.
"JMM has one sitting MP. So, apart from that seat, it can get one more Lok Sabha seat. As the three other parties don't have any seat at present, they can be given one Lok Sabha seat each," said a Left source.
For the assembly election, the CPM wants BJD to distribute 35 seats between the JMM, NCP, CPM and CPI in proportion to their current strength. In the current Assembly, JMM has 4 Members of Legislative Assembly, while the other three parties have one each.