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Odisha: The Fight is Getting Close, as BJD and BJP Battle Out Hurdles

While the ruling BJD is facing rebellion and anti-incumbency in some areas, BJP lacks organisational reach and a face to counter Naveen Patnaik.
Looking for a sixth tenure, a fear of a decline in vote share may be one reason compelling BJD’s Naveen Patnaik to play the religious card by propping up the Puri Temple Corridor project.

Image Courtesy: Twitter/@bjd_odisha

After the collapse of the likely alliance between the incumbent Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the Assembly and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in Odisha, both the parties are sailing in vessels that would now have to pass through a confluence of uncertainties with regard to simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

The anger and discomfort shown by the saffron party when talks were going on for a possible alliance now seem to be gradually fading. The BJP seems to have realised that it was crucial for any election.

Merely riding on the crest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is not enough to help the Odisha BJP to match the advanced preparedness by BJD, which has been in power in the state for the past 24 years under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik, a popular Chief Minister.

BJD has made inroads at all levels. Its organisational network is present in every nook and corner, which is far ahead of what BJP can reach.

Moreover, the BJP has hardly any popular face so far, who can be projected as a counter to Patnaik.

Also, the BJP unit in Odisha, which virtually pressured its central leadership to part ways with BJD, now carries two moral challenges.

One is that the party will have to work hard to match Modi’s quest for more Lok Sabha seats from the state for his ‘Abki baar-400 paar’ claim. At the same time, BJP will have to increase its presence in the Assembly with a respectable number, which means winning more than 22 seats it had in the last Assembly so that it can be freed of BJD’s dominance in the House.

This is surely a tall order for BJP.

BJD, on the other side, will be able to explain its unwillingness for an alliance, as it would have made things easy for the saffron camp in 2024.  

Now the bullet is out of the barrel. There is no going back. Both parties have somehow locked horns regardless of the cordial relationship between Modi and Patnaik.

On the BJD side, too, things will not be as easy because at the grassroot level, the anti-incumbency factor of five- years of rule is playing out in several areas. And, if murmurs of discontent among many sitting MLAs are anything to go by, the rebellion underneath has already come to the fore. Many sitting legislators are getting replaced. Interestingly, so far, only three MLAs-cum-ministers from the earlier stock, above 60 years of age, are being given a chance for the sixth time, while many new young faces are being considered. This has also whipped up an air of dissent within the BJD.

In this situation, Congress has a chance to gain the spin-off benefits while BJP may garner some votes in its favour, but not substantial enough.

However, some new faces owing allegiance to either Congress or BJP have been chosen by BJD to counter the rebellion factor.

With BJD aiming to win at least 100 Assembly seats, it has to face many headwinds. If it ends up somewhere below 70 seats in a House of total 147 seats, then its legislative dominance will reduce and the Patnaik dispensation would be bound to bow down before any defiance from the saffron benches.  

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Odisha. The views are personal.

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