Buoyed by the impressive performance in the recent panchayat elections, a resurgent BJP is drawing a roadmap to oust the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government led by Naveen Patnaik in the 2019 Assembly elections, supposed to be held along with the Lok Sabha elections.
The party, which has enrolled over 30 lakh members in the state, won 297 out of 846 zilla parishad seats and has been able to push the Congress to a poor third spot. The Opposition space, so far occupied by the Congress, has now gone to the BJP, which is now seen as a potential challenger to the BJD in Odisha. This, according to political observers, is not a mean achievement. The party hopes it will be able to consolidate its position further in the next two years and uproot Naveen Patnaik, whose BJD is in power for the last 17 years in the state.
“While the Congress space has shrunk in the state, there is anti-incumbency against the Naveen Patnaik government as well. This gives BJP a good chance to occupy a major political space in the state. However, it will have to be seen how the BJP targets the Naveen Patnaik government in the days to come. While the liking for BJP has increased in the past few months, it is also true that Naveen Patnaik is not ‘disliked’ as such by the people of Odisha. But 17 years is a long time for anti-incumbency to surface. Therefore, the BJP leadership is playing its cards very carefully,” said a source. The BJP, on its part, is leaving no stone unturned to strike a chord with the people of Odisha. It is trying to reaching out to the Dalits and the tribals, who constitute a major part of the population. The party is also carefully projecting a face—Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan—to counter Naveen Patnaik.
The party is also trying to woo leaders of BJD and the Congress, who are unhappy with their leadership, especially after the rural polls, in order to weaken them.
According to Pradhan, Odisha is the laboratory of Narendra Modi’s pro-poor schemes. “Modi’s credibility is the highest in the state. We feel that by 2019, we will emerge as the natural ruling party in Odisha,” he said.
In Odisha, BJP at present has only 10 MLAs in a 147-member Assembly, Congress has 16 and BJD 117. The party has a lone Lok Sabha MP — Jual Oram. The BJD has the rest 20 MPs. Its vote percentage in the 2014 Assembly elections was 18%.
Party leaders feel that the situation has changed a lot after the last election and Narendra Modi has emerged as a major attraction across the country. All this, they feel, will go in favour of the BJP in this eastern state.
The Modi government, on its part, is also giving a big push to development projects of Odisha. It has given a major thrust on the Rs 1.25 lakh crore petrochemical complex in Paradip. It has also launched the Rs 5,750 crore City Gas Distribution project of GAIL in the state.