In Odisha, it’s all about Naveen Patnaik and Narendra Modi

In Odisha, it’s all about Naveen Patnaik and Narendra Modi

In the absence of any major poll issue, the BJD and the BJP are banking on the performances and charisma of its two leaders.

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Last Updated : 07 May 2024, 06:25 IST
Last Updated : 07 May 2024, 06:25 IST

The simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Odisha has virtually turned into a popularity contest between Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The candidates of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hardly matter in this tussle for power. Instances of last-minute switching over of allegiance of candidates are galore. As political parties released their list of candidates, many of those who did not feature in them switched sides.

That an acrimonious battle is expected between the two parties became evident from Modi’s remarks made on May 6 on his second electoral visit to Odisha, and Patnaik’s immediate rebuttal to the same. After Modi sought the people’s support to ensure a ‘double-engine government’, Patnaik countered it saying that the national party was ‘daydreaming’.

In the absence of any major poll issue, the BJD and the BJP are banking on the performances and charisma of its two leaders. The two parties, which had shared power for a decade in the past and parted ways before the 2009 elections, have, however, had a friendly relationship, especially since 2019.

The two parties are squaring off after talks for a pre-poll alliance failed, apparently because the BJP wanted to be treated as a powerful poll partner.

Concentrating on Odisha

Surprisingly, the BJP, which usually focuses on the national-level picture, has been raising the issue of Odia pride and language in the wake of the rise of Tamil Nadu-born former bureaucrat-turned-BJD politician Kartik Pandian in the state’s politics.

The BJD, which has been ruling Odisha for the past 24 years with its focus on Odia pride and culture, has countered the BJPs’ allegations stating that the Modi government had not given a single rupee for the promotion of Odia, which got the status of a ‘classical language’ during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’s regime. Another charge by the BJD is that the Modi government has rejected Odisha’s proposal to accord classical status to Odissi music. The BJD accuses a Union minister hailing from Odisha of having opposed the Parikrama Prakalpa surrounding the Jagannath temple in Puri.

It is for the first time that the BJP is trying hard to hurt the BJD by bringing in all their Union leaders to the state to carry out a vicious campaign. Political analysts feel that the BJP was concentrating in Odisha to compensate for its presumed losses in other states.

Wooing voters

On the other hand, after the I.N.D.I.A. bloc parties failed to reach a pre-poll understanding in Odisha, the Congress is going on its own and has informally conceded one assembly seat (Bonai) to the CPI(M) and one Lok Sabha seat (Mayurbhanj) to the JMM.

The Congress, which is wooing voters by highlighting the bonhomie between its rivals, is likely to regain its lost vote base in the southern and western regions, and some pockets in the coastal belt as well. The party’s manifesto seems to be generating traction among the Dalits and the tribal people, and this may help the grand old party in the absence of a Modi wave. During his recent visit to Odisha, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that both the BJD and the BJP were together.

A large chunk of the Congress votes had shifted to the BJP in the 2019 elections when the saffron party rode on a Modi wave in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot strike. The challenge the BJP is facing this time is to at least secure as many votes as it secured in the last elections.

In 2019, the BJD won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and 112 of the 147 assembly seats, while the BJP bagged eight Lok Sabha and 23 assembly seats. The Congress got one Lok Sabha and nine assembly seats. The BJD secured 44.71 per cent of the Assembly votes, while the BJP won 32.49 per cent, and the Congress 16.12 per cent. The BJD won 42.8 per cent of the Lok Sabha votes polled in the state, while the BJP did better with 38.4 per cent and the Congress margin further reduced to 13.4 per cent.

Advantage BJD if Congress revives 

Such was the vote swing in favour of the BJP that BJP leader Jual Oram won from the Sundargarh seat by a margin of 223,065 votes in 2019 as against his victory margin of 18,829 votes from the same seat in 2014.

The BJD stands on a better footing to get Patnaik elected for the sixth consecutive term if the Congress succeeds in restoring its vote base by performing better than the last elections, thereby hampering the BJP’s growth in Odisha. Apart from contesting from his traditional Hinjili assembly constituency in southern Odisha, Patnaik is also contesting from the Kantabanji seat in the state’s western region to brighten his party’s prospects in the region. In 2019 also he contested two seats.

Since no prominent national or state issue is dominating the poll scene in Odisha this time, the results in most of the Lok Sabha and assembly seats will be decided upon local issues, and the charisma of Patnaik and Modi.

(Prafulla Das is a Bhubaneswar-based journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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