Image Credit: http://www.odishatv.in
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik has suspended Kendrapara MP Baijayant Jay Panda from Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with immediate effect as per media reports on charges of misconduct with BJD workers, misappropriation of MPLAD funds and anti-party activities. Trouble had been brewing in BJD’s state unit for some time and Panda has been alleged of acting at the behest of BJP.
Suspension of Panda provides a big fillip to BJP’s Odisha Mission 120+. Critics could scoff at BJP’s claims – 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 2014 elections, 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.
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.
The state elections will be held together with Lok Sabha elections in 2019. With Modi popularity at its peak (Pew Survey), 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, slogan of ‘same government in the center and in the state formula will lead to better development’, may work for BJP.
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.
Though BJP is a strong contender to win Odisha in 2019, significant challenges remain in its bid for power.
1. Dearth of strong local leadership, Piggybacking on Navin has ensured BJP doesn’t have organization structure in state
BJP doesn’t have a face in Odisha. Dr. Dharmendra Pradhan and Giridhar Gomango do not enjoy state wide mass appeal. The party was an alliance partner of BJD till 2009. This has ensured that party did not invest in state leadership. The party organization structure in state remains weak, as alliance banked on popularity of Patnaik family. RSS has significant presence in the tribal belts running various schools and social welfare schemes, but somehow has not been successful in campaigning for BJP like in other states.
2. 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 majority in southern and eastern states. Of the 14 states, where Hindi speaking population is less than five percent, BJP has been able to form a government in only two states (Manipur and Gujarat).
3. Clean image of Naveen – Super Modi vs Mini Modi contest
Naveen babu has a very clean image similar to Modi. He is single and people feel that he has no incentive for indulging in corruption. ‘Kiske kiye kamayega’. His popularity ratings are very high. 64% of voters preferred Naveen as CM choice in 2014 state elections in a CSDS survey. No other leader could get even a 10% rating.
4. Presence restricted to western part of state
BJP did fairly well in western Odisha where it bagged 30% vote share in 2014 state polls versus 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.
5. Naveen can play the ‘Odia Swabhimaan’ card
This is similar to ‘Gujarati Asmita’ card which was played by Modi-Shah Jodi in Gujarat. Naveen can play the emotional card revving up the association his father which he now shares with the people of the state. The family is credited with bringing stability to Odisha politics.
6. Poaching could backfire
Jay Panda is one of the top industrialists in Odisha and owns stakes in local media. He is the most known face of BJD in national media and represents the LS seat which Naveen’s father represented for many years. In election year, his resourcefulness will help BJP.
Over the last year, many BJD leaders / ex MLAs have joined BJP, namely, Sunil Kumar Singh Deo, Girish Sahu, Alekha Jena. BJP central minister Jual Oram has claimed that many ex MPs, MLAs are in touch with BJP and are expected to leave BJD. This has been a regular feature in states which have gone to polls in last 4 years, MLAs from other parties have joined BJP. However, BJP needs to acknowledge the fact that MLAs who join from outside other than creating resentment among party cadre come with their own baggage. This was evident in Gujarat where majority of Congress MLAs who had swiched sides lost elections. This was one of the prime reasons why BJP didn’t cross 100.
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.
(This article was first published in FirstPost.)