Amit Shah began his Mission Odisha from Naveen Patnaik’s home turf today. After BJP recorded a massive improvement in tally in panchayat elections, Biju Janata Dal, has woken up and realized that its citadel is under threat. A weakened Congress in the state is helping BJP surge.
Critics could scoff at this claim, how can a party with just 10 MLAs gain majority in a 147 member house. Well BJP has pulled off such feat in many states after Lok Sabha 2019, so it’s not impossible. In Assam, Haryana and Manipur its seat tally now is more than 10 times its previous tally. The common thread with Odisha is that these performance were against long lasting incumbent governments of 10-15 years.
BJP is on victory path after recent round of municipal / state elections and Modi’s popularity could help it pull off a win. Clean image of Naveen babu and his support required in Presidential elections complicates matters for BJP.
Factors in BJP’s favour
– Anti incumbency against BJD govt. of 17 yrs
Naveen has been in power for the past 17 years. By the time polls take place he would have been ruling for almost 20 years. This is a long enough time to develop strong anti-incumbency. Till now TINA factor helped BJD due to factionalism in Congress and the fact that BJP was part of coalition in state till 2009.
– Poor socio economic indicators
The state is economically backward despite being rich in mineral resources. Per capita income of Odisha is 29% below national average. 33% of people of the state are below poverty line versus national average of 22%. While Naveen Patnaik’s government has done a lot to improve the well-being of people, a lot still needs to be done. The image of a tribal carrying his wife’s body on his back for many kilometers after being denied ambulance is still fresh in people’s minds.
– BJP’s good show in panchayat polls
BJP recorded a stupendous performance in panchayat elections held in Feb. 2017. While its tally jumped 8 times, its vote share nearly doubled from 18% to 33%. Extrapolating this result to assembly constituencies, BJP is leading in 53, BJD in 80 and Congress in 11 seats. Still 2 years for BJP to add another 20 odd seats and gain majority.
– State polls to be held with Lok Sabha polls in 2019
The state elections will be held together with Lok Sabha elections in 2019. With Modi popularity at its peak, Modi factor may just tilt the scale in favour of BJP. In 2014, people of the state voted against central rule of Congress in Lok Sabha polls. In 2019, ‘same government in the center and in the state formula will lead to better development’, may work for BJP.
– ‘Outsider’ Naveen & Infighting within party
While Naveen has a clean, honest image, he is still considered as an outsider by opposition. His ‘Odia’ is not so great. He doesn’t mingle with people and party workers. He doesn’t have an approachable image.
There is no second in command of Naveen in the party. None of his family members are interested in politics. This doesn’t augur well for a dynasty based party. He is believed to rely more on bureaucrats which irks party leaders.
Senior MPs Tathagata Satpathy and Baijayant Jay Panda were involved in an ugly spat on social media recently hurting party’s image. Jay Panda has even attacked the CM questioning his leadership. All is not well within party, allegedly being orchestrated by BJP.
– Congress weakening in state and nationally
After J.B.Patnaik, Congress graph has been steadily declining in the state. From 39% vote share in 1995 to 26% in 2014 state elections to record low of 18% in panchayat polls in 2017. Party failed to open its account in 2014 central elections. It has changed its state leadership seven times during 2000-2014. As India steadily becomes Congress-mukt, it is highly unlikely that voters of the state will repose faith in Rahul’s leadership.
– Corruption cases against BJD ministers
Naveen is non-corruptible, but that can’t be said about his party ministers. The Rs. 60,000 crore mining scam is one of the biggest allegations against his government. He has replaced as many as 26 ministers during his entire tenure, acknowledging some sort of wrong doing.
– Complementary voting blocks
BJP and BJD share the same voting blocks of upper caste and OBCs. While BJP got majority of these votes in other states in 2014, they stuck with BJD in Odisha (49% and 45% respectively). OBCs nationally have been flocking to Modi’s BJP (34%) while upper caste (56%) have moved en-masse from Congress to the party. BJP also received good tribal support nationally (38%), however couldn’t repeat same performance in Odisha (18%).
Good news for BJP is that it doesn’t need to poach these voters necessarily from BJD, it can lure these voters from Congress and pose a stiff challenge.
Challenges / Short-Comings
– Dearth of strong local leadership
BJP doesn’t have a face in Odisha. Dr. Dharmendra Pradhan and Giridhar Gomango do not enjoy state wide appeal. The party was an alliance partner of BJD till 2009. This ensured that party did not invest in state leadership.
– BJP still seen as Hindi Bhaasi party
Though BJP has been spreading its influence across India, it is still seen as a party of Hindi speaking north Indians. It is still to find acceptability among southern and eastern states.
– Clean image of Naveen
Naveen has a very clean image similar to Modi. He is single and people feel that he has no incentive for indulging in corruption. His popularity ratings are very high. 64% of voters preferred Naveen as CM choice in 2014. No other leader could get even 10% rating.
– Piggybacking on Navin has ensured BJP doesn’t have organization structure in state
BJP was a junior partner in alliance with BJD till 2009. This ensured that party organization structure in state remains weak, as alliance banked on popularity of Patnaik family. RSS though has significant presence in the tribal belts running various schools and social welfare schemes.
– Presence restricted to western part of state
BJP did fairly well in western Odisha where it bagged 30% vote share in 2014 vs state average of 21.5%. This area has districts which share border with Chhattisgarh where BJP is in power. On the north and in the coastal areas it has less influence. BJD on the other hand has presence throughout the state.
– Naveen can play the ‘Odia Swabhimaan’ card
This is similar to ‘Gujarati Asmita’ card which will be played by Modi-Shah Jodi in Gujarat. Naveen can play the emotional card revving up the association his father and now he share with the people of the state. The family brought stability to Odisha politics.
To conclude, BJP has a good shot at forming the government in Odisha in 2019. However, it needs to slog and not just rely on Modi. Projecting local leaders, building an aura around them will help. Each election is different and situational. What worked in UP, may not necessarily work in Odisha. On the other hand Naveen needs to acknowledge that BJP poses a serious threat. He needs to focus on implementation of his welfare schemes, bring discipline in the party and become approachable. An exciting contest on the horizon…..
(Amitabh Tiwari is an independent political commentator. He is co-author of e-book Battle of Bihar and can be reached at @politicalbaaba)