Odisha Panchayat Poll-2022 : Odisha BJP misread GE-2019 message
In just concluded Panchayat Raj election in the entire state of Odisha, out of 852 Zilla Parishad Zones for which election was held on party symbols, the regional party Biju Janata Dal (BJD) wiped out oppositions, which are in fact leading national parties such as BJP and Congress, winning 766 zones -near about 90 per cent zones- and is about to form Zilla Parishad in all 30 districts, a historic feat for any political parties in state electoral politics. In this said election, BJP, Congress and Independents won in 42, 37 and 7 zones respectively. And in votes share, while BJD received 52.73% votes, BJP and Congress vote shares are 30.07% and 13.57% respectively.
In comparison to 2017 Panchayat election, while for BJD the result is an exceptional across-the-board, for two national parties, there is nothing less than severe humiliations including in constituencies where BJP’s eight MPs and Congress one MP won in General election 2019 (GE-2019).
This author considers BJP Odisha’s GE-2019 result extremely well because this was for the first time BJP MPs strength from the state gone up to eight without any alliance. In GE1999, post-Biju era, BJP won nine MPs from the state in alliance with newly formed regional party BJD, named after legendary Biju Patnaik and lead by his son Naveen Patnaik, a political novice. Before GE1999 election, BJP had never won any MP seat in the state including its earlier avatar Bharatiya Jan Sangh. And after the end of alliance with BJD and BJP in 2009, BJP under the guidance of over-confidence journalist-cum-politician from outside the state, who was squarely responsible for alliance break down, was reduced to pre-GE1999 status both in Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections, and in GE2014, the party won only one LS seat.
Here, in this discussion, this author picked up BJP for an analysis simply because BJP is the party which has a future in the state in comparison to other major opposition party called Indian National Congress (INC), which has meanwhile reduced to the status of spent-force, and hardly considered to be revived under the present dynasty ownership in the centre.
BJP, is the party, which owned eight MPs seats in GE2019, but however the party miserably failed to get matching number of MLAs that is 8X7=56, per MP constituency there are seven MLAs. Instead it won only 23 MLAs in the elections simultaneously held for Parliament and State Assembly, a practice has been going on in the state of Odisha among few other states since GE2004 as the BJD-BJP government under the leadership of CM Naveen Patnaik wished so in 2004 though the government had one more years to remain in power as per the five years term provisioned in constitution. Here, let us not take into account the then BJP state leadership’s mocking of BJD CM on preponing of election by one year that ‘Naveen Patnaik wants to swim the electoral battle riding centre’s BJP government’s popularity’.
Here, it is to be noted that then the party did not acknowledge the greater national benefit of simultaneous elections for both Lok Sabha and Assembly, though now party’s supreme leader PM Narendra Modi wishes for the same to avoid going to poll every now and then which has very negative impact on government policy matter.
Let us have a glance on 2017 Panchayat Raj election held in the state. In that election, while BJD won 476 Zilla Parishad zones, BJP won 297 zones. As per the data released by State Election Commission, BJD’s vote share is 52.73 per cent in the ZP elections, way ahead of the 30.07 per cent and 13.57 per cent of the BJP and Congress respectively in just concluded rural poll. The BJD made a jump of about nine per cent votes this time compared to the 2017 elections, while both BJP and Congress lost three percent votes each.
As per Indian standard usual political practice, the blame games post-election have already started much before the most needed stocktaking by BJP state leadership. And the newspapers are packed with statements. “The poll results is least surprise because the party had not done its homework,” opined veteran BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra, who migrated to BJP after a failed attempt to get his own electorally viable regional party having been ditched by BJD supremo in early 2000s. Going further, he said, “Some in the BJP took it for granted that the popularity of the saffron party is fast growing and they are going to form the next government in the state.” He admitted that dissension is more and no one is ready to listen to others in the BJP.
Addressing media in the party state headquarter, party’s IAS-turn-Bhubaneswar MP and national spokesperson Aparajita Sarangi said, “The party’s dismal performance in the rural polls cannot be attributed to outside reasons.” But what are the talked about ‘outside reasons’ she means have not been clarified. Going further she said, “We need to look within ourselves and do what is required to improve the party’s performance.”
But most astonishingly none, who matters, has been found analyzing and discussing why BJP did not get matching number of MLAs, which is 56, with eight MPs won in GE2019. Even in some BJP won MP constituencies not a single BJP MLA won in that General Election.
Why? What is the reason?
In fact, it looks like the problem lies on the part of state party leadership which has not been able to understand state voters thinking.
Shall it be assumed that the voters are happy with political arrangement that BJP as ruling party and Narendra Modi as PM in New Delhi and BJD as ruling party and Naveen Patnaik as CM in Bhubaneswar? This author believes this assumption. To support this assumption, the classic example is GE-2019 result as illustrated above. Going further, Naveen’s support to BJP Rajya Sabha candidate Ashwini Vaishnaw as per the telephonic request of Prime Minister and Home Minister as reported in media, and BJD cooperation to BJP-led central government on several crucial issues concerning national and state politics unlike other opposition parties –both regional and national- have been appreciated by states voters well.
Other major assumption for BJP’s poor show in GE-2019 Assembly election and recently held Panchayat Poll is: it may be that the state voters have not find a best substitute to BJD’s Naveen Patnaik in BJP state leadership. Introspection and cadre building instead of abusive politics on unsustainable issues are need of the hours. Here, the state leadership of party should not forget that a gentleman politician Naveen Patnaik in opposition side has been used by the BJP central leadership as shield against divisive politics of almost all opposition parties. When almost all opposition both national and regional parties joined hands against BJP, Naveen Patnaik is found issue-based cooperative central government.
While concluding, this author wishes to mention the latest statements of PM Modi over BJD and CM Naveen Patnaik politics, and latter’s statement on PM. Replying to motion of thanks on President address to Parliament in the upper house on 8 February 2022, Modi spoke on cooperative federalism and gave examples of reforms in coal and mining sectors. “These reforms are important decisions of cooperative federalism. Odisha has been at the forefront of implementing these reforms. I congratulate the Odisha chief minister…his government worked for all the reforms working shoulder to shoulder with us.” Modi’s praise of Naveen came on a day the BJP staged demonstration near the Chief Minister’s residence against alleged denial of justice to Kalahandi teacher Mamita Meher, who was allegedly murdered in October last year, a purely crime done by a criminal under investigation under the watch of High Court. Apart from above, PM Modi had appreciated Naveen for his government’s preparedness and disaster management activities which has resulted in minimal loss of lives after cyclone Yaas that hit the state in May last year. Reciprocating BJP government’s gesture, Naveen has been supportive of Modi government’s most of the contentious policy decisions from Citizenship Amendment Act to abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir, among others. Recently, Naveen had reacted sharply to PM’s security breach in Punjab and saying the PM is an institution, whose foolproof security is duty of every government and anything contrary should be unacceptable while many opposition parties were celebrating the security breach.
By Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
(The writer is Research Fellow at DRaS and Asst. Professor at TGI-Bhubaneswar.)