BJP is making inroads into Coastal parts of Odisha, which was till now the stronghold of ruling BJD. That is why many senior BJD and Congress leaders are deserting their parties to join the BJP
Dr Samanwaya Nanda
The General Elections-2019 in Odisha will be a close contest between Naveen Patnaik’s BJD and Modi’s BJP. That’s seen as a big change in people’s perception in a very short span. In the coastal districts, which elect more than half of Odisha’s 147 MLAs and where politics is highly competitive, the BJP was a non-entity during the 2009 and 2014 assembly elections. That picture has changed now. “A lot of BJP hawa” could be seen in coastal constituencies, where the party is aggressively pushing booth-level campaign to induct the volunteers.
Coastal Odisha has been the stronghold of ruling Biju Janata Dal. The BJP has received a further boost in this region with several veteran leaders joining it. The BJP had won one Lok Sabha seat in 2014 elections. Out of total 10 MLAs of BJP, only two were from coastal parts. Veteran coastal Odisha leader, former Minister Bijoy Mohapatra, Dama Tour, Raghunath Mohanty and former MP Baijayanta Panda have now joined the BJP.
In the electoral battle for Odisha, it is the politically-sensitive coastal belt and the two northern districts, which always decide who will lead the game. The region accounts for 11 Lok Sabha and 77 assembly seats. Most constituencies in the coastal belt are witnessing bipolar contests between BJP and BJD with the key politically sensitive Lok Sabha seats being Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, Balasore and Kendrapara. Post-2014, the BJP replaced Congress as the party that could challenge the ruling BJD in the state. Party work of the BJP has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last four years, many credible and honest grassroots leaders have left the BJD and Congress to join the BJP.
The situation for BJD is not same in 2019, as it was in 2009 and 2014. Four-time Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik had full control over the party during 2009 and 2014 Elections. But this time it seems he has lost control over the party. During 2009 and 2014 elections, when BJD Chief denied tickets to its leaders, most of them sat silent. But this time open rebellion, dissension and resentment are seen among aspiring candidates and sitting MPs and MLAs of BJD who have been denied party tickets. This has put the ruling BJD in trouble. Political observers feel that BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik had never faced this type of challenge in his last 19 years tenure as CM.
The BJP has a strong organisational base in tribal pockets of Odisha and Western part of the state and had won one Lok Sabha seat in 2014 general elections. It was in second position in nine other constituencies out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The BJD had won the remaining 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Biju Janata Dal MP and former Union Minister Arjun Sethi resigned from BJD after he was denied ticket. A five-time MP from Bhadrak Lok Sabha constituency Arjun Sethi was holding Party’s Bhadrak District President’s post. Nabarangpur MP Balabhadra Majhi, Kandhamal MP Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh and Kalahandi MP Arka Keshari Deo have already resigned from the BJD. While Balabhadra Majhi and Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh have joined the BJP, the BJD president has not accepted the resignation of Arka Keshari Deo. Damodar Rout, an MLA in the Odisha Assembly and former Minister in Biju Pattnaik’s government, as well as Naveen’s cabinet, had also joined BJP recently. Party has appointed him as convener of the Campaign committee. Rout had been a minister in all the four governments headed by Patnaik and was seen to be close to him before falling out with the BJD president. BJD’s senior leader Raghunath Mohanty resigned from the Party and accused it of having deviated from the ideals of legendary leader Biju Patnaik.
Key Issues in Coastal Districts
The key issues that will play a major role during the Assembly, as well as, Lok Sabha elections in 2019 will be that of farmer distress, increasing sexual violence against women, corruption in government offices, rising unemployment and government’s incompetency in returning money to chit fund depositors and anti-incumbency wave against the government.
Despite announcing the KALIA scheme (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) and various other developmental schemes for the state, the ruling party, BJD is still facing an anti-incumbency wave from the Opposition. Adding to the woes are senior party members leaving the party following disappointment.
There is no doubt that the resignation of three key MLAs and the expulsion of two seasoned leaders just ahead of the elections is going to hurt the party. The crisis in Congress began with the resignation of state party working president and Jharsuguda MLA Naba Kishore Das, Sundergarh MLA Jogesh Singh, Salepur MLA Prakash Behera from the party just before the election. Similarly, Srikant Jena and former Koraput MLA, Krushna Chandra Sagaria, being expelled from the Congress for ‘anti-party’ activities. The Congress is already facing the threat of losing its main opposition party tag also. During last years many MLAs of the party like Padmalochan Panda of Balasore and senior leader Madhabananda Mallick of Bhadrak also resigned from the party.