Slamming the Congress for smelling a “nexus” behind the BJD’s backing of the saffron party’s Rajya Sabha candidate Ashwini Vaishnav, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Sunday said, it was “not a secret deal” but an “open understanding” between the BJD and the BJP, in the interests of Odisha.

“Allegation about a secret deal between the BJD and the BJP in Vaishnav’s Rajya Sabha bypoll nomination is baseless. There is nothing secret about it as everything was done openly,” the petroleum and steel Minister told reporters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah did not make a secret request to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for the BJD’s support to the BJP nominee in the Rajya Sabha bypolls, Pradhan said.

Similarly, the chief minister also openly extended the BJD’s support to Vaishnav’s candidature, he said.

Emphasising the need for mutual understanding in a democracy, the BJP leader said, the BJD’s readiness to back the BJP nominee for Rajya Sabha bypolls is a healthy development which would definitely benefit Odisha.

Shortly after the BJP on Friday named Vaishnav, who was private secretary to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as its candidate for the July 5 Rajya Sabha bypolls, BJD chief Naveen Patnaik announced his party’s support to him.

In a faux pas, Patnaik had initially announced the name of Vaishnav as a candidate of BJD along with Amar Patnaik and Sasmit Patra for the three vacant Rajya Sabha seats. He later clarified that Vaishnav was a BJP nominee to be supported by the BJD.

Vaishnav has enjoyed cordial ties with Patnaik, whose BJD was an ally of BJP during the Vajpayee era. Patnaik himself had served as a minister in the Vajpayee government before he became the chief minister of Odisha in 2000.

Pradhan was reacting to Congress allegation that the BJD and BJP maintained a tacit understanding which was exposed with the ruling party supporting the nomination of Vaishnav, a former IAS officer.

Congress stalwart and MLA Narasingha Mishra Saturday said, the BJD was in a position to win the bypolls to all three vacant seats as it has 111 members in the state assembly with its present strength of 145.

Therefore, the hidden ties between the BJD and the BJP have now come to the fore, he had said.

Speaking in same vein, Odisha PCC president Niranjan Patnaik also lashed out at the BJD and the BJP and said both the parties were enacting a drama.

Dismissing the allegations, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Pratap Sarangi said, Odisha will benefit immensely with Vaishnav getting elected to the upper house of parliament from the state.

BJP’s Odisha unit president and MP Basant Panda said, there is no question of any compromise as the party is committed to speedy development of Odisha.

“The BJP welcomes support and constructive cooperation from all to ensure the state’s progress”, he said.

The bypolls will be held to the seats vacated by Achyuta Samant, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik and P K Deb. There will be no election for the seat vacated by Anubhav Mohanty.

The Election Commission issued notification for three seats as around a year is left for the tenure of the fourth seat (Anubhav Mohanty’s) to end.

While Samant and Patnaik’s tenure as Rajya Sabha members is till April 2024, Deb will have to retire in July 2022. Mohanty’s membership is supposed to end in April 2020.

While the BJD has 111 MLAs in the 147-member Assembly, the BJP has 23 MLAs and nine belong to the Congress. The CPI (M) and an independent candidate won one seat each. Two seats – Patkura and Bijepur – are now vacant.