BJP has expanded its base like never before. From the Hindi heartlands and towards the North east, the party is growing by leaps and bounds. Its foray in to the South remains as a formidable challenge. However there are two states in the east which the BJP is fighting to attain relevance. First is West Bengal where it is trying to emerge as an alternative to opposition which is the left. Second state is Odisha where it is trying to topple BJD and come into sight as an alternative to form the next state govt.
It is undoubtedly a fact that Odisha offers the best bet for the BJP amongst the states where it has low or no presence. The national convention of the BJP at Bhubaneswar and now the recent three day visit by Amit Shah is perhaps a realization in the same direction. This time around, Shah was emboldened to make bold statements which indicated he is taking on the BJD patriarch head on to heels. Calling him a ‘dysfunctional transformer’, Shah was very candid with his choice of words and timing. As BJD tried to play down Shah’s latest jibe at its tallest leader, this direct verbal diatribe by the BJP president speaks volumes about the seriousness emanating from the BJP in toppling a regional bastion.
There are several reasons why Odisha is the best bet for the BJP to expand itself. And the culmination of it is the direct verbal attack by Shah on the BJD strongman.
Firstly, it is no secret that the performance of the BJP in the local body polls was nothing less than spectacular. The margin of their growth had taken away the sweet taste of victory from the BJD. The results were in favor of the BJD but they had lost tremendous ground. On the contrary, the election ensured that the opposition space was occupied by the BJP. The BJP romped home by becoming the second largest party in rural Odisha relegating the Congress to a paltry position. According to results declared, Zilla Parishad seats demonstrated surprising results with BJD winning 473 seats and the BJP 297. In the last elections held in 2012, the BJD had won 654 seats, followed by the Congress with 128, and the BJP just 36 seats out of 854 seats. This multifold increase in seats and percentage of votes was a shot in the arm for the BJP. This was perhaps the foundation on which the party has embarked to capture the state in 2019.
Secondly, BJD is facing severe infighting. This has being reflected in the form of Jay Panda whose proximity towards the BJP cost him his job in the BJD. Many political pundits say the splendid performance of the BJP in local body elections was not just about the rise of the BJP but also amounted to defections from the BJD. A direct attack on BJD chief may further help in more defections and can upstage the unity of the party. BJD MP Jay Panda was showered with eggs during a clash between his supporters and other party workers in Mahanga area of Cuttack.
The suave MP had gone to a village to inaugurate a drinking water project. BJD sources alleged that supporters of Health Minister Pratap Jena engineered the clash because the MLA was not invited for the inauguration. This is not all. There have been other dissidents too who are not happy and the formation of these internal camps is bad for the BJD. The image of the CM has remained strong and clean despite decades of BJD rule and so this infighting amongst second rung leaders is picked as an advantage by the BJP. By directly taking on the CM, Shah is trying to exploit these weaknesses in the second generation leaders which can hurt them dearly.
Thirdly, strong anti incumbency will be reflective of decades of BJD domination. That was not just demonstrated in the election results but also the mood on the ground. Shah thundered that the Modi govt had doled out a lot of aid for the state but implementation by the state govt was poor. It was all about making people realize the inefficiency of BJD rule in the state. In spite of corruption infesting the state govt, Naveen Patnaik enjoys an untainted image and the efforts of Shah were to connect these dots that will at least bring spotlight on his efficiency issue. Taking a leaf out of the Karnataka CM, Naveen Patnaik is offering a lot of populist schemes and sops to woo the voters. The welfare measures undertaken by Patnaik are countered by promises of Shah to make Odisha a better state. The drive on both the sides will conceptualize an exciting battle in 2019.
Fourthly, BJP has done a lot of grass root maneuvering to increase its presence in the state. These efforts now are guided by personal retorts of Shah against Patnaik which will help BJP cadre gain traction with respect to enthusiasm and morale. Calling ‘mission 120’, Shah has tried to make a war cry to infuse victory march amongst local foot soldiers. The foundational necessary ground work is also done. In the 2014 polls, BJP’s absence of organizational infrastructure stopped it from harvesting rich dividends out of a resurgent Modi wave across the country. Realizing that, Shah set the ball rolling in the 36,000-odd booths in the 147 assembly segments, aiming to appoint at least 70 people in each booth with my booth strongest programme. Social media is active and has been deployed to highlight BJD corruption and lack of proper implementation of the state and central projects.
Along with a flurry of measures, BJP should project a CM face which may improve its chances. Leaders like Dharmendra Pradhan have been duly awarded for their excellent performance and someone like him can be projected to be an alternative face to Naveen Patnaik and his decades of domination. BJP possesses galaxy of state leaders who can take on the mantle from Patnaik and this can again be highlighted by the BJP top brass whilst campaigning for the state.
Perhaps Odisha needs a fresh lease of politics at the helm and Amit Shah tried to capture it. There is no doubt that Odisha is undergoing a sea change in polity and Patnaik like the Left rule in Bengal or may be like Tarun Gogoi in Assam is increasingly becoming a liability. The fight between mission 120 of BJP and mission to sustain by the BJD is going to see a lot more events. Whatever the prospects may be, the fight seems to be heading towards a nail biting finish.