Odisha is holding Assembly polls along with General Elections, and political pundits are predicting the Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will get a comfortable win for a fourth term in office.
Naveen Patnaik, who is purportedly more popular than even his own party, seems to be sitting pretty, as mood in the state is in his favour. And that is not without reason.
Patnaik has engineered and executed an agenda that is widely viewed as people friendly and has actually improved the lot of the people at the grassroots level.
Infrastructure in the state has improved, more villages are connected with electricity than ever before and water is available through taps in several remote regions where women had to line up at wells.
This time as well, BJDis targeting the lower social strata. The 100-crore package for kendu leaf pluckers is precisely tailor-made for lower income groups and tribals, who have been traditionally Congress votebanks. Similarly, women self groups are being wooed with lower interest rate loans.
Youth are being targeted through Mission Yuva Shakti and youth conventions, while `Sankha Bajao, Swabhiman Banchao` campaign is meant to mobilise ground support.
One of the best feathers in the CM’s cap has been his handling of Cyclone Phailin wherein damage was minimised through the pro-active approach of the government.
In the last phase of his tenure, Naveen Patnaik announced the launch of 200 projects in less than 20 days, giving ammo to opposition parties which are targeting the CM for misusing state resources to promote the BJD.
Considering the position of strength of BJD, there have been several significant defections to the party from the Congress, BJP, JMM and CPI(M).
Prominent leaders like Jitu Patnaik, Bimbadhar Kuanra, Golak Nayak, Hema Gamang, Anup Sai, Arun Dey, Sudam Marandi, Adikanda Sethi have all joined hands with Naveen Patnaik, who has been at the helm in Odisha since year 2000.
Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), which is a former ally of the BJD, is struggling to find its feet. The only time that it had been in power in Odisha, since the state came into existence, was when it had aligned with BJD between years 2000 and 2008.
Many are putting the blame for the party’s lack of effectiveness at the door of KV Singhdeo, who is the state president of the BJP. But the boost has come in the form of Narendra Modi, who has held several rallies in the state including places like Chandarpur, Barmunda, Rourkela and Sambalpur. It is being projected that the BJP may increase its vote share, but it is debatable whether it would be at the expense of BJD or actually Congress, which is currently the main Opposition in the state.
The bets are that BJP will, for the first time, relegate Congress to the third position and emerge, at least, as the main Opposition party in the state. This would be a first in the party’s state history.
Among the major campaigns launched by the BJP has been `One Note, One Vote`. The party is also aggressively attacking the BJD for its failure, particularly in the chit fund scam and for the government not compensating investors who had put their money in ponzi companies from the Rs 300 crore corpus that had been set aside by the state.
Further, like its national campaign, the BJP has made corruption a big issue in state elections and is putting the BJD government on the mat for the state’s mining scam.
The BJP is also connecting with people through foot soldiers, through local worker conventions and election committees.
Releasing the party manifesto, BJP’s Odisha in-charge Arun Singh reached out to the youth by promising jobs for 40 lakh youths of self-help groups. The party is assuring fast track courts for dealing with women safety cases and also proposing Kanyaranta scheme for the girl child.
The manifesto also contains a slew of measure for farmers, and guarantees 24-hour power in the state.
The Congress, on the other hand, looks the most jaded amongst all parties in the state. While it is the main Opposition party, it has failed to exploit the sentiment against the government on the mining scam due to lack of support from its central leadership. The UPA itself has been struggling in Coalgate and has prevented the state unit from going all out against Naveen Patnaik on the same issue in another context.
Historically, the Congress had held sway in the state for the longest period of time since Independence when leaders like Harekrushna Mahatab and Nabakrushna Choudhury had unquestioned authority.
However, the unchallenged stint of the Congress had come under threat when its senior leader Biju Patnaik broke ranks. And now, since 2000, his son and political heir Naveen Patnaik has been ruling the roost.
The Congress has been trying to regain lost ground, but without much success. Just last month, Leader of Opposition in the Odisha Assembly and very senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh crossed over to the BJD, a move that really embarrassed the grand old party.
The defection is only indicative of the deep divisions in the state unit. While exiting, Singh wrote to Sonia Gandhi complaining about how senior leaders of the party were feeling ignored due to the autocratic ways of the state leadership. The letter was a veiled attack on the Pradesh Congress chief Jayadev Jena and also Srikant Jena, and possibly party general secretary in-charge of Odisha BK Hariprasad.
In fact, the Congress has faced more defections in recent months compared to anytime in the past state history.
As per sources, some amount of the damage has been controlled through the ardent efforts of film star Aparajita Mohanty, who is the Congress candidate from Cuttack’s parliamentary seat but not enough to save the party from a likely disastrous performance.
The Aam Admi Party is not fielding any candidate for Assembly Elections, but it has nominated maximum people with criminal records compared to other parties for Lok Sabha polls. The new entrant feels it would be stretched if it tried to cover Assembly segments as it does not have the resources for such a contest.
All in all, Naveen Patnaik is preparing for another stint and has fielded sitting MLAs in most places. Though reticent and soft spoken by nature, Naveen Patnaik has shown his mettle as a tough decision maker when it comes to testing times like the 2012 coup engineered by Pyarimohan Mohapatra. He didn’t think twice before showing his long time aide and advisor the door at a time when people were predicting a party split. At the same time, he has shown enough skills at realpolitik to bring back rebel Prabhat Biswal to party fold despite his having been in Mohapatra’s camp earlier.
Meanwhile, the mentor-turned-bête noire has launched his own party, Odisha Jan Morcha, and is openly predicting the end of Patnaik. But given the fact Mohapatra’s newly launched party was unable to win a single seat in local body elections, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to dent BJD’s vote share.
The stage is set and it is an advantage for Patnaik. If he comes back as CM once again, he would have not only proved his administrative abilities, and become one of the longest serving CMs of the country, he would be in the hot seat with more power than before with detractors having learnt the lesson that it is not so easy to dethrone him.