BJD has started feeling Opposition heat after 17 years of trouble-free governance.
Bhubaneswar: For the first time in 17 years, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha appears to be facing serious challenge to its hegemony from the Opposition. The resurgence of the BJP in the state’s political arena as the second major force and party national president Amit Shah’s declaration of his mission to win 120 of the 147 Assembly seats in the state, have started worrying the BJD leadership and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Mr Patnaik, who in the past succeeded in keeping the rival BJP and Congress at bay because of “good rapport” with their central leaders, is said be no longer enjoying that privilege.
The chief minister is also struggling to find support from his own colleagues in putting up a strong fight in the verbal attacks being launched by the rival BJP.
The regional outfit and the BJP are all set to cross the swords in the 2018 urban local body polls. After the rural polls in February, the outcome of the urban body polls will come as an indicator of the mood of voters of Odisha.
According to political analyst Srirama Chandra Dash, Mr Patnaik is himself responsible for his present woes of limited voices within the party to counter the BJP surge.
“In the last 17 years, Mr Patnaik has driven out almost all the founding members of the BJD and experienced leaders fearing that they might emerge as his challengers,” Mr Dash said.
“The expelled leaders were serious and seasoned political faces who always defended the party against the onslaught of the rivals. Now, when he faces an organised BJP attack from all quarters, he does not have a strong colleague to defend him,” he said.
The chief minister’s over-reliance on scam-tainted and inexperienced young MLAs, MPs and party leaders has also multiplied his misery. “Now, when these leaders are under CBI scanner in the chit fund scam, Mr Patnaik is struggling to defend himself,” said Mr Dash.
The saffron party, as political analysts say, has completely ceded its love for the BJD, especially after it got absolute majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and its strength in Rajya Sabha increased this year, enabling the party to pass crucial legislations without support of the regional parties.
On the eve of 1998 Lok Sabha polls, the BJD and BJP had forged an alliance that lasted for nearly two decades. The two parties broke away in 2009 on the eve of Assembly and Lok Sabha polls over the seat sharing issue.
Mr Patnaik shunned the BJP as a “communal” party. Until then, the saffron party always considered the BJD as its “most” obedient partner as the regional outfit.
The BJP realised that the BJD remained loyal despite the state not getting the Special Category status or a special package. The outfit led by Mr Patnaik remained committed to the “coalition dharma” even as NDA’s other partners, including the Trinamul Congress, Telugu Desam Party and AIADMK, broke away from the alliance.
Mr Patnaik’s decision to go alone in 2014 polls proved right as he got a record number of 117 seats in the Assembly and 20 Lok Sabha seats, surpassing his previous best of 103 Assembly seats and 19 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 polls.
Despite the super performance, the BJD discovered that the additional seats in the Assembly, Lok Sabha and all the 10 Rajya Sabha seats did not translate into any additional political power to play a bigger role in central arena.
This time round, the BJP is seething in anger to avenge the 2009 humiliation. Led by Union petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the BJP is mounting pressure on the BJD government.
The NDA government thwarted attempts by the BJD government from claiming credit for the central governments-sponsored subsidised 1 rupee a kg rice scheme and 101 ambulance facility.
The NDA reached out to people through massive campaigning to highlight the share of the Union government in the subsidised rice and other schemes.
More trouble followed when the CBI, following the state BJP leaders’ clamour for expediting probe into the chit fund scam - arrested four top BJD leaders - Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha member Ramachandra Hansda, Banki MLA Prabhat Kumar Tripathy, Cuttack-Choudwar MLA Pravat Biswal and former MLA Subarna Naik.
The BJP-led NDA government also rolled out its own programmes like Ujjwala, providing subsidised cooking gas cylinder to home makers, to have direct interface with the voters.
The BJP has also stepped up its drive to attract new members. Emboldened by 40 lakh enrolments during the membership drive, the party has also strengthened cadre at the 36,000-odd polling booths in the 147 Assembly segments.
The BJP is aiming to appoint at least 70 workers in each booth through “Mo booth sabuthu mazboot” (my booth strongest) programme.
The BJP wants to get at least one crore votes to go past the 100+ seat mark in the Assembly. In 2014, the BJD won 117 seats with 93 lakh votes. In this year’s panchayat polls, BJP secured around 67 lakh votes registering a nine-fold jump in the number of zilla parishad seats. Setting a target of bagging 400 votes from each of the 36,000 booths, the BJP hopes to get 1.4 cr votes.