Hold Poll Momentum in Odisha

Post Panchayat Polls in Odisha, the BJP must hold its momentum till assembly polls

By DANFES

The BJP’s performance in the panchayat polls in Odisha has been nothing short of incredulous. The party though, from the beginning, was pitted to take the second position, has surprised by the number of seats it has won so far, giving a tough fight to the ruling BJD and showing Congress the way out.

In the first phase, while the BJP has won 66 out of 188 Zilla Parishad (ZP) seats (the BJD has won 105), in the second phase, the lotus has taken over 55 out of 166 ZP seats (the BJD has won 92) of the 853 ZP seats in the state.

Setting a big margin in comparison to the last panchayat polls, where the BJP had won only 36 seats (the BJD won 652, followed by the Congress with 128), the party workers are celebrating no holds barred. With the momentum going in its favour, it is likely to make it harder for the other parties even in the next three phases on 17, 19 and 21 February.

The showing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the national party, which is facing a crucial electoral battle in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh. Facing serious questions over demonetisation, the party is keen to project every little gain as people’s stamp of approval for the note ban.

Narendra Modi, a canny politician, will not let go of it. He has pitched it before the UP voters as an example of the growing popularity of the party in regions where it was inconsequential even at the peak of Modi wave. Addressing an election rally in Kannauj in UP, Modi congratulated the party karyakartaas for being able to reach the masses and gain their confidence despite everyone facing the demonetisation effect.

The surge of BJP in Odisha, however, is set to shake the ruling BJD, particularly the invincibility of chief minister Naveen Patnaik in Odisha. None, for that matter, not even the BJP, had imagined the seats in its favour till the counting of the first phase started and results flowed in.

The panchayat elections have delivered a shocker to the ruling party which had made a habit of sweeping the state in tsunami like victories since 2000. In the first major setback for Patnaik in his 16 years of rule, the people of Odisha have given a strong signal to the BJD. In the last two years, the BJD government has not had a smooth journey. With the continuing agony of chit fund scam, issues like farmers suicides, malnutrition, Dana Majhi incident, Japanese encephalitis deaths have all stood as pointed spears against the BJD. One may call it hubris, but the protracted indifference to the burning and emotive issues has begun to swing public perception against Patnaik.

It is also important to track the inroads the BJP has been able to make post 2014 elections to reach the grassroots. Its workers too who have been incessantly interacting with the masses on a regular basis besides reaching them at times of need.

Take the issue of Japanese encephalitis deaths in the back of the beyond region of Malkangiri. Patnaik did not deem it fit to visit the district even once or make any public display of anguish or action to combat the outbreak that claimed lives of scores of children. Contrast that to Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who not only promptly visited the region and victims’ families, but also projected efforts for their assistance. Similarly, the BJD workers were vocal to intolerable limits when Dana Majhi of Kalahandi was meted out a raw deal with no ambulance to carry his dead wife. No wonder, the BJP has won in 18 of the 36 ZP seats in Kalahandi district while the BJD is yet to open account there. On the contrary, the BJD had won 28 seats in the same district in 2012. In Malkangiri too, the BJP is heading towards victory.

The BJP has also puzzled poll pundits by winning 23 out of 27 seats that went to polls in Mayurbhanj district and the numbers are equally skewed in Balangir where the party has already won 11 out of 13 seats. It might also be in very strong position in Angul, Sambalpur and Bargarh where elections in the three phases are yet to take place. Besides continuing their hold in the western districts, the BJP has been able to sway through some unexplored districts which is an indication that people in Odisha want change and before 2019 Assembly elections, the panchayat poll could be the harbinger.

Besides, both the Union ministers Pradhan and Jual Oram, had been camping in the state for more than 25 days a month to ensure their voices reach the grassroots, for which they have also been highly criticised. Not paying any heed, both ensured that the schemes launched by the Centre reaches each and every person in the state and the impact is for everyone to see.

Add to all these, were factors that worked against the BJD to help the BJP. The high-handedness of the people in power, arrogance, scams and internal factionalism besides overconfidence were consequentially damaging. And BJP was fast to reap the benefit and they did.

Most importantly, the state that was seeing no option as a chief minister other than Patnaik, on whose back the BJD has ridden for too long, sees Pradhan as a strong contender. Pradhan, so far, has also not disappointed them. Irrespective of the outcome of the forthcoming phases, the die is cast and it’s time for the BJP to hold on to the momentum that the panchayat poll has created.