Stiff challenges for Naveen in Odisha
Political observers have commented that it will be practically difficult to survive a strong anti-establishment wave against MLAs and MPs of ruling party across the state despite the clean and charismatic leadership of Naveen Patnaik. His image dented following CBI and ED summons and arrest of some ruling Party MPs and MLAs. The very recent being the ED summon and questioning of Dharmasal(Jajpur) MLA Pranav Balabantray on his clandestine deal with Cuttack’s notorious Dhalasamanta Brothers.
Seeing the elections less than a year away, political parties in Odisha have started hectic parleys to draw strategy for the next general as well as state assembly elections. They are leaving no stone unturned as stakes of major political parties are in doldrums.
since its inception in the year 1997, now the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) seems to be facing one of its greatest challenges from opposition Congress and BJP parties. Though the party is in power since the year 2000 for continuous fourth term, issues like chit fund scam, mining scam, detoriating law and order situation, Kunduli rape incident, increasing farmers’ suicide, setback in industrialization, alarming rise of crime against women, unabeting migration and unrest in tribal areas etc have put it on the back foot. The most significant threat being the revival of BJP as the second largest political party after the 2017 three- tier Panchayati Raj elections. BJP, which is in power at the Centre, is posing a formidable challenge to Naveen Patnaik-led BJD with blistering attack on issues confronting the state. Two of parties Union Cabinet Ministers–Jual Oram and Dharmendra Pradhan–are frequenting to the state to nail BJD government on state’s backwardness and what they call all-round failure of Naveen Patnaik government. BJP’s rank and file in the state has woken up to fight in the streets following the visit of Party President Amit Shah on regular intervals. BJP has increased its vote base from mere 15 per cent to 32 per cent in the recent Panchayat elections securing 297 Zilla Parishad seats out of 851. That’s the reason Party President Amit Shah in his September visit had unveiled party’s game plan and fixed Mission 120+ (that means to win at least 120 Assembly seats out of 147). Last month, Shah was in Bolangir, Western Odisha, the traditional bastion of Party, as out of its 10 MLAs 6 are from Western Odisha,. to address a youth rally. BJP, which had been the alliance partner of BJD for nine years from 2000-2009, is now a bitter enemy. Naveen Patnaik had snapped its tie with BJP after Kandhamal communal violence. BJP despite its nationwide wave and Modi surge in 2014 elections had failed to conquer Odisha. It won the only lone Sundergarh Parliamentary seat, from where veteran tribal leader Jual Oram fought.
Despite all odds, BJD could manage to stop the saffron surge in recent Bijepur Assembly by-elections, as it won the seat by a huge margin of fifty thousand votes, defeating BJP candidate. The party also swept two newly crafted Notified Area Councils–Hindol and Atabira. It resurrected BJD’s claim–being the number one party in the state with no near rivals.
For wily Naveen Patnaik, President of the ruling BJD and Chief Minister of the state for long 18 years, who is continuing his fourth term, the 2019 elections will not be a smooth sailing. Patnaik, who had taken oath as Odisha’s Chief Minister on 21st May 2014 after his consecutive win for fourth time, has completed four years. For one of the longest-serving Chief Ministers of the state, these four years werehave been one of the challenging periods. Most significant of them was chit fund scam, which still haunts him despite instituting Corpus fund and Commission of Inquiry.
Political observers have commented that it will be practically difficult to survive a strong anti-establishment wave against MLAs and MPs of ruling party across the state despite the clean and charismatic leadership of Naveen Patnaik. His image dented following CBI and ED summons and arrest of some ruling Party MPs and MLAs. The very recent being the ED summon and questioning of Dharmasal (Jajpur) MLA Pranav Balabantray on his clandestine deal with Cuttack’s notorious Dhalasamanta Brothers. Much before that party’s Mayurbhanj MP Ramachandra Hansda and Cuttack –Chaudhaurya MLA Pravat Biswal are in jail in chit fund scam; its Keonjhar MLA Subarna Nayak, Banki MLA Pravat Tripathy are on bail. CBI also had summoned BJD’s Balesore MP Rabindra Jena. Not only that, CBI had also questioned a personal staff of Chief Minister on his dubious link with chit fund kingpin Prasanta Dash.
Naveen seems to be leading from the front to stop the resurgent BJP. He led party leaders to kickstart BJD’s second phase of Mahanadi Suraksha Abhiyan from Sukhasuda in Jharsuguda on 16th May. Nevertheless, party’s first phase of Mahandi Abhiyan, which began few months before the 2017 Panchayati elections, didn’t have any impact to take on BJP.
Naveen Patnaik these days is leaving no stone unturned to stop saffron surge in the state. His three-pronged strategy to woo voters and arrest the growth of BJP is slowly but surely gaining ground–connecting people to make them realize that his government is doing all the best for people in offering a slew of programmes, aggressively poaching opposition leaders to bring them to BJD fold and launching scathing attack on Narendra Modi-led NDA government at Centre, alleging stepmotherly attitude of Union Government for not doing enough on Mahanadi Water dispute between Chhattisgarh and Odisha besides turning down of Odisha’s genuine demand of Special Category State status.
Recently he distributed 2000 land pattas to slum-dwellers in his home district Ganjam, sanctioned more than 100 projects through video conferences speaking directly to grassroots Panchayati Raj representatives within a month. Not only this, he put his party machinery in task to go to households in villages and towns to form booth and ward committees and ask people whether they are getting benefits from slew of government schemes or not. He has sent feelers to party rank and file that this time BJD candidates for both Parliament and Assembly seats will be judged on the feedback of grassroots party activists and general voters, not on lobbying by senior leaders or ministers in state capital as BJD did in last elections. A dedicated team of party insiders and experts is working day and night to select candidates through tele talks with people, intelligence inputs, winning possibilities and review of work done by the candidates concerned in different constituencies. In this way BJD wants to increase its vote share from last polled 93, 35,000 to 1 crore 10 lakh this time.
Of recently Naveen could manage to bring few prominent leaders from Congress and BJP to party fold to beat the growing anti-establishment wave against the sitting BJD MPs and MLAs of his 18 years rule. Prominent among them is former Union Minister Chandrasekhar Sahu of Congress.
Naveen’s mission to arrest saffron growth in Odisha got a fillip following the appointment of former Minister Niranjan Patnaik as PCC President by Congress High Command. Though, Patnaik is a strong bat to challenge both BJD and BJP, it is seen that with him in helm of affairs in Congress with party’s tradition vote bank among tribal and Dalit voters will be galvanized and will check saffron progress and in turn divide the anti-BJD votes in the state.
The first priority of the new PCC Chief is to stop the exodus of its leaders from the party to BJD and BJP besides building confidence among grassroots workers that Congress has not lost to both BJD and BJP. Congress which is the principal opposition party in the state is out of power since the year 2000 and the successive electoral defeats year after year and continuous marginalization of party from the mainstream have demoralized its cadres. Though there was a strong winning possibility, but because of its internal squabbles the faction-ridden party suffered a severe setback in last Panchayat elections (February 2017) making it the number 3 in the state. BJP on the other hand could manage to achieve nine-fold jump in its tally by winning 297 Zilla Parishad seats out of 851, leaving Congress in a disarray and BJD in check.
This electoral prospects of BJP fuelled fresh impetus among the rank and file of the party paving the way to make Odisha one among the focused states by party Central leadership. Party President Amit Shah is making frequent visits to the state and has outlined party’s strategy. Not only this, he has also restructured the organizational set-up in the state putting Union Ministers in charge of different regions and Parliamentary constituencies. Half a dozen Union Ministers have visited the state for different party activities and are keeping a momentum to beleaguered cadres.
Besides this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who always has a special attention and priorities for developing Eastern region of the country with his “PURVADOYA” call, made this region one of the next targeted states of BJP for raising the saffron flag. “Odisha being the priority state for Central leadership of BJP, the battle line is drawn to unseat Naveen Patnaik-led BJD”, said a senior leader of the party. “In a three-corner contest it will be advantage BJP”, he added.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Bhubaneswar