For the first time in around two decades, the ruling Biju Janata Dal in Odisha is finding the coming assembly and Lok Sabha polls an uphill task in the face of tough challenges from the BJP and the Congress, besides the discontentment within.
The Naveen Patnaik-led regional party won four consecutive assembly elections since 2000 with its seat tally rising every time, but the poll scenario in the state is different this time.
In 2014, the BJD had bagged 117 out of the 147 assembly seats in Odisha, followed by the Congress (16) and the BJP (10).
In parliamentary polls too, which were held simultaneously, the BJD dominated the poll turf winning 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP managed just one.
In 2009, when the BJD went to polls alone after snapping ties with its decade-old ally BJP, the regional party tasted victory in 103 assembly constituencies, while Congress candidates won 27 seats and BJP had to be content with six.
The poll scenario was different in 2000 and 2004 when the regional party fought the elections in alliance with the BJP, but still the BJD enjoyed supremacy.
While the BJD won 68 and 61 assembly seats in 2000 and 2004 respectively, BJP nominees were victorious in 38 and 32 constituencies on these occasions.
However, the four-phase simultaneous polling next month is going to be an acid test for Patnaik as both the BJP and the Congress appeared to have gained strength in the state.
Coupled with the opposition surge, disgruntled leaders leaving the BJD has come as a major setback to the ruling party, which once looked invincible. Anti-incumbency factor has also added to its woes.
Senior BJP leaders claim, the ruling BJD will be “wiped out” after 2019 polls and that the government will “collapse” under the weight of anti-incumbency.
BJP Odisha in-charge Arun Singh has claimed that the countdown of the Patnaik government has started.
BJP’s optimism notwithstanding, BJD president and Chief Minister Patnaik, who is seeking re-election for the fifth term, claims his party will perform “very well” in both Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
Despite Patnaik’s confidence, a host of BJD leaders have quit the party due to varied reasons, including fear of denial of ticket or differences with the leadership.
Sitting Nabarangpur MP Balabhadra Majhi and Nilagiri MLA Sukant Nayak resigned from the BJD recently, alleging they were ignored and neglected.
Majhi, who later joined the BJP, claimed he was “cheated” after being made to quit a job in the railways and lured into poll fray in 2014, while Nayak alleged he was “mentally tortured and harassed” and kept outside discussions on major issues pertaining to his area.
Trinath Gomango, BJD MLA and brother-in-law of former Congress chief minister Giridhar Gomango, too has joined BJP.
Voices of discontent among BJD leaders are also being heard in Jharsuguda and Sundargarh following induction of Congress legislators Naba Kishore Das and Jogesh Singh who represented these assembly seats respectively. Old-timers who were denied party tickets openly aired their anger.
While senior leader from Sundargarh, Kusum Thete, resigned from the BJD, accusing the party leadership of cheating her, former assembly speaker and ruling party leader from Jharsuguda, Kishore Mohanty, has been sulking for sometime.
BJP stalwarts, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, have undertaken whirlwind tours of the state to boost their party’s poll prospects.
The saffron party is also trying to attract known loyalists of the legendary Biju Patnaik, father of the current chief minister.
The recent induction of former MP Baijayant Panda and ex-minister Damodar Rout into the BJP is considered a part of this strategy. Both the leaders are from the coastal belt, home to around 68 assembly seats where the BJP is not so strong.
BJP state in-charge Arun Singh claimed several BJD leaders are keen to join his party.
Challenge from the Congress is also no less formidable with party chief Rahul Gandhi undertaking back-to- back visits to the state.
Optimistic after its victories in assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress is making efforts to galvanise its base in the state where it is out of power for 19 years.
BJD leaders such as state Finance Minister S B Behera and Rajya Sabha MP Prasanna Acharya, however, said party hopping is nothing unusual during elections.
People leaving the BJD and joining other parties will have no impact on poll prospects of the ruling party, they said adding the “good work” done by the government will have support among people.
The chief minister on Monday announced his decision to contest from two assembly seats his home turf Hinjili in the southern Ganjam district and Bijepur in the western part of the state.
Western Odisha is considered important for the BJD as the region has five Lok Sabha and 35 assembly seats. Of the five Lok Sabha seats, BJD had won four in 2014 polls.
However, the situation appeared to have changed since then with the BJP consolidating its base there. In 2017 panchayat polls, the saffron party put up an impressive show in western Odisha by bagging 126 of the 209 Zilla Parishad seats, while the BJD had won only 56 seats and the Congress 22.
While the BJD feels Patnaik contesting from western region will boost its prospects in western Odisha, the BJP dubs the move as a “panic” reaction. Congress leader Arya Kumar Gyanendra claimed the decision will boomerang on the BJD.