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BJD Citadel Stares at Siege as BJP Seeks 'Double-Engine' Govt in Odisha

DN Singh |
“By winning at least 80 seats of the 147-member Odisha Assembly, our party would work hard for a double-engine government in the state,” said Bijay Pal Singh Tomar, Odisha BJP in-charge.
“By winning at least 80 seats of the 147-member Odisha Assembly, our party would work hard for a double-engine government in the state,” said Bijay Pal Singh Tomar, Odisha BJP in-charge.

A huge shift in focus in Odisha politics looks imminent as marathon pre-poll exercises of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have taken place in Bhubaneswar, pushing intensely for a ‘double-engine’ state government in 2024.

It seems now as if the BJP is willing to hurt and is not even afraid to strike, unlike the two earlier general elections.

Though this may sound a bit oxymoronic given an unspoken bond between the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance DA and Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for the last decade of the uninterrupted 25 years of reign under Patnaik.

However, nothing is permanent in politics, and a sign of this is the ongoing brainstorming by BJP under the guidance of Bijay Pal Singh Tomar and Lata Ushendi, Odisha in-charges of the party.

“By winning at least 80 seats of the 147-member Odisha Assembly, our party would work hard for a double-engine government in the state,” said Tomar.

“And we are hopeful of winning 16 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha, thus cutting down dependence on any other party,” he added.

While both Congress and BJP demand an end to the “hegemony” of BJD, the former, in a marked shift, has said that it would see a ‘double-engine’ government in Odisha this time.

However, it may be recalled that during his visit to Odisha’s Sambalpur, on January 3, Prime Minister Modi was extremely critical of Congress in his campaign speech in the rally. What was conspicuously missing was an attack on the ruling BJD.

But the recent surge of bellicosity seen in the saffron camp underscores that things, as they appeared in the recent past, have changed substantially.

It is a different matter that in Odisha, any attempt to decimate Congress would be something like flogging a dead horse as the party has been relegated to the third position after BJP. But this time, some chances of Congress to improve seem to be on the horizon.

“We look forward to support from the women voters of Odisha also to help us achieve the goal of a double-engine government in this state,” said Ushendi.

Both Tomar and Ushendi held discussions with almost all the state BJP leaders to decide about candidates for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections.

There is also the issue of BJD supporting the Modi-led NDA in Parliament, as and when required. But as of now, the state BJP has adopted a combative stance.

“I don’t think we need support from BJD on any issue and I do not know why such a misnomer is making the rounds,” said Manmohan Samal, state BJP president.

Tomar and Ushendi have also held separate discussions with Samal and all the district-level leaders and would apprise BJP national president J P Nadda regarding the outcome later.

“Extensive discussions are going on as to which candidate would be fit for which Lok Sabha seat, besides the winning prospects of candidates for the Assembly. That leaves many sitting members with fingers crossed regarding re-nominations,” said a source in the BJP requesting anonymity.

Pressure seems to be mounting from the saffron camp as other top BJP leaders have started visiting Odisha.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, during his visit to Jagatsinghpur and Cuttack, made a scathing attack on the Patnaik-led government for being “parasitic”.

“The Odisha chief minister, for whatever reason, has outsourced the governance of the state to some bureaucrats who themselves are neck-deep in corruption and are just monopolising the governance,” he had said.

The other BJP leaders scheduled to visit the state are Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh.

Compared with the 2014 and 2019 general elections, one can see a noticeable change in BJP’s strategy as regards BJD, which many poll analysts view as a ‘serious contest’. In the build-up to the two earlier general elections, the stance of the BJP was never so bellicose.

This was further corroborated in the 2019 pre-poll warming-up phase when both the PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah maintained a neutral stance towards the BJD dispensation barring some customary digs in electioneering climate.

But the ongoing discussions in the meeting have an undertone that BJP may try to capitalise as much as possible to wrest a dominant role in 2024, unlike the earlier two general elections.

“To fight in 80 Assembly seats may not sound to be a combative claim but if BJP sails smooth and improves its 2019 tally from 22 seats to at least 50 or 60 in the Assembly, that could be a thorn in Naveen’s bed,” said Rabi Das, a well-known political analyst in Odisha.

Pandian to Fill in for Patnaik?

This time, the modus operandi of the campaign by BJD supremo is not known to the party members. Given Patnaik’s age, 78, and seemingly frail health unlike earlier, it remains to be seen whether he would be able to undertake the physical strain to campaign in person or would leave his deputy V K Pandian, an IAS turned BJD leader, to substitute him.

“I do not suppose that Pandian as a Patnaik substitute can garner as much acceptance from the people as he did in 2019 even if Patnaik was in a bus-ride campaign all through the state,” said Das.

Because, there have been quite a few occasions when people have shown contempt for Pandian while he was "masquerading" as Naveen’s direct representative.

Naveen Patnaik is known for his decency, as he never resorts to being angry even with his strong critics – that makes him stand out.

While Pandian, who was virtually catapulted to become the next powerful figure after Naveen, lacks composure in his tone and tenor, which could potentially lead to some apprehension among the public during campaign.

Not being in the pink of his health, Patnaik may opt for a crutch this time, but it would entail a calculated risk to launch a campaign through such manoeuvring.

The writer is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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