Ritesh K Srivastava
Unlike most states where anti-incumbency factor ruins the prospects of the ruling party or alliance, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha is strong as ever and set to retain power in the upcoming assembly and win big in the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJD led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik remains popular and easily expected to win both the polls by huge margins.
The state has 21 Lok Sabha seats and the BJD is expected to maintain its lead by winning between 10-16 seats. The main opposition party, Congress, is expected to win 3-9 seats and the BJP is projected to win 0-4 seats, as per poll pundits. Odisha will go to polls on April 10 and 17 to elect 21 members of the Lok Sabha and 147 members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
The unprecedented support to the BJD government has dampened the spirit of the Congress and its former ally BJP to revive their fortune in this eastern coastal state.
Though the BJD chief is a media shy person and loves to lead a secluded life but he remains easily accessible and known for his non-corrupt image. His schemes have worked well for the common people and his government has provided better connectivity, uninterrupted electricity and tap water connections to almost every household in even the remotest village of the state.
Naveen Patnaik government’s work at the grass-root level in the past three terms and its effective handling of the relief and rescue operation in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin has impressed the locals, especially the young voters, who admire his leadership qualities and revere him as the head of the state’s feudal society.
Both as the CM and the head of the BJD, Patnaik has never hesitated in taking tough action against corrupt bureaucrats and has shown door even to his trusted lieutenants like Pyarimohan Mahapatra, whenever the situation warranted. Patnaik never thought twice before snapping ties with the BJP before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls over anti-Christian riots and these bold steps have actually made him a popular leader in Odisha.
However, Patnaik’s image of a grounded yet extremely workaholic leader is not the only reason for the BJD`s golden run in the state. Among other factors, the ruling disposition has also benefited from the absence of a strong opposition in the coastal state.
Lack of strong leadership and infighting has weakened Congress and there is huge disconnect between its central and state leadership. The top rung leaders of the party often take all state-related decisions, leaving little scope for the state unit office bearers. All this has helped the BJD in projecting Naveen `Babu` as a leader who listens to people’s problems and tries to solve them.
The absence of strong leadership in other parties has helped the BJD to woo fragment parties, rebel leaders and the weaker sections. Probably that’s the reason why several political leaders, including some sitting MLAs from other parties, have joined hands with Patnaik’s party in the recent past.
In the last few months, among others, NCP MLA Arun Dey, Congress MLAs Anup Sai, Bhupinder Singh and Jitu Patnaik and former Congress MP Hema Gamang have joined the BJD. Former BJP state president Bimbadhar Kuanra and a tribal leader of the party, Golak Nayak, too, have joined hands with the chief minister. Even Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Odisha unit chief Sudam Marandi and Communist Party of India legislator Adikanda Sethi have joined the BJD.
What further explains the political situation is BJD’s emphatic victory in the recently held urban local body polls in the western, southern and the coastal district. Though the BJD has also faced accusations of indulging in corrupt practices, embezzling central funds, siding with the mining mafia and using unfair means to win polls, still neither Congress nor the BJP have the potential to oust Patnaik from power.
The BJP`s position is equally poor in the state and many blame KV Singhdeo, the state president of the party, for such a sorry state of affairs. Though pre-poll surveys have predicted that BJP`s vote-share will increase by eight per cent but that would be largely at the expense of the Congress.
However, the most interesting aspect of this election is the enormous support for BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, who is believed to be miles ahead of others, including Naveen Patnaik, in the race for the top job.
The state BJP leaders are hopeful that the Modi factor will play a pivotal role in reviving the lost fortunes of the party in these elections. While conceding that the 2009 election was fought on local issues, the BJP leaders exude confidence that Modi wave, people’s dissatisfaction with the UPA regime and real issues like price rise, corruption, development etc will dominate the electoral battle this time.
The poll pundits say that the BJD’s tally could further go up from the current 91 seats in the 147-member assembly in these polls. In the 2009 assembly election, BJD got 38.86% of the vote, compared with 29.10% for the Congress and 15.05% for the BJP. In the Lok Sabha polls that took place simultaneously, the BJD bagged 37.24% of the vote share.
With the BJD all set to retain power in Odisha, it would be interesting to watch whether Naveen Babu will play a kingmaker in ensuring a Third Front government at the Centre if the BJP or Congress led alliances fail to get the required numbers. This holds significance as Naveen has ruled himself out of the PM race and wants to stay focused on Odisha for the time being.