BJD juggernaut all set to roll on in Odisha

BJD juggernaut all set to roll on in Odisha

Odisha chief minister and  Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik and his party are on the cusp of creating a history in the 2014 elections.

The party, founded in 1997, is going to polls without alliance, for the first time, putting to test its achievements in the last 15 years and also popularity among the people in the eastern state.

With opposition in disarray, the BJD is hoping for a crucial role like many other regional parties across the country in the event of a hung Lok Sabha.

In the last simultaneous elections to the state Assembly and the Lok Sabha, the Patnaik led party had won 14 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state while its ally, CPI had captured one seat. The regional outfit had managed to pocket 103 out of 147 Assembly seats while its two allies--the CPI and the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP)-- had captured one and four seats respectively.

The total vote share of the party was 37.2 per cent which was higher than its two rivals. The Congress’ vote share was 32.7 per cent whereas the BJP could poll only 16.9 per cent of votes.

The 2014 polls are also important for the BJD as it is not having truck with any other political party. It had a tie-up with the BJP during the 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections as well as 2000 and 2004 Assembly polls. In 2009, the party had gone for seat adjustment with the CPI and  the CPM besides the NCP.

The party has fielded its candidates in all the 147 Assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies this time. While the first phase of the elections concluded on April 10, the second and final phase is scheduled to be held on April 17.

Apart from its own performance during the last 14 years of its rule in the state, which the party claims is better than all previous Congress governments in Odisha, the BJD is heavily banking on the personal charisma of its president. In fact, Patnaik has become the only star campaigner for the regional outfit.

“The BJD will perform extremely well in the coming Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha”, Naveen Patnaik has been repeatedly saying whenever he gets an opportunity to speak to the television cameras and local journalists during his hectic electioneering.

The chief minister’s over confidence stems from the fact that almost all national television news channels, newspapers and other agencies in their pre-poll surveys have predicted a repeat comfortable victory for Patnaik and his party in the polls. Assembly and Lok Sabha elections were held together in 2004 and 2009 also.

If he becomes the  CM again, then Patnaik will be bettering his own record. He had created a record in 2009 when he occupied the CM’s chair for the third straight term.
In this election, the BJD is involved in a triangular fight with the principal rival Congress and its one-time ally, the BJP, just like the 2009 elections.

What is helping the BJD is the complete disarray in the the Congress due to intense infighting among the state party leaders. Congress workers are demoralised because of simmering differences among the top leaders. For the first time in the history of the state Congress, the PCC’s election committee had its meeting in New Delhi instead of state capital Bhubaneswar, fearing violence between warring factions.

As if infighting and senior leaders’ open trading of charges against each other were not enough, the Congress suffered a major setback on the eve of filing of nomination papers with large-scale party hopping of important leaders to the BJD.

These leaders include sitting MLAs, former MLAs, former state ministers and district unit presidents.

The biggest embarrassment for the party, however, was when senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh left his party of 40 years and joined the ruling regional outfit. Singh was the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly. Deserters from other political parties like the BJP and the JMM also joined the BJD. But their number was not as high as that of the Congress.

The impact of the infighting is being  felt in some key seats. A case in point is Sundergarh Lok Sabha constituency in western Odisha where Congress nominee and former chief minister Hemananda Biswal is struggling against two heavyweight opponents-- BJP nominee and former union minister Joel Oram and BJD candidate and hockey star Dilip Tirkey.

Biswal had won the seat by a comfortable margin in 2009. Some analysts have begun to believe that the Congress may not be able to even repeat its 2009 performance. In the last elections, the Congress had bagged six Lok Sabha and 27 Assembly seats.

So far as the BJP is concerned, party candidates are heavily depending on the Modi factor which could spring surprises in some Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies. The party has so far not succeeded in having a representative in the Lok Sabha from the state. But, the BJP had managed to win six Assembly seats during the 2009 polls. At least its Assembly tally is expected to go up this time.

An interesting feature of the current elections in Odisha is the mad rush among the members of Odia film industry, popularly known as Ollywood, to join political parties. In fact, two major players, the BJD and the  Congress, have given party tickets to some of them in a few key constituencies.

Besides, re-nominating its film star Sidhanta Mohapatra from prestigious Berhampur Lok Sabha seat, the BJD has fielded lead actor Akash Das Nayak and comedian Papu Pom Pom from Assembly constituencies of Korei in coastal Jajpur district and Barbil in northern Koenjhar district. The two had recently joined the party.

Similarly, the Congress has selected two popular actors Bijoy Mohanty and Aparajita Mohanty to contest from two important Lok Sabha constituencies of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, respectively. They were given tickets just days after joining the party.

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