The Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as a force to reckon with in Odisha, with many leaders from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Naveen Patnaik and Opposition Congress making way towards it.
While many leaders from both the parties have joined the BJP in the last few months, BJP sources claim that many more are going to follow suit in the near future. The Assembly elections in the state will take place along with the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
The BJP is upbeat primarily because of its improved performance in the panchayat elections earlier this year. It is also banking on a strong anti-incumbency as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been in power since 2000.
The Congress suffered a shock as family members of the late Congress leader Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra (Lulu)—his daughter Upasana and brother Lalitendu, along with their supporters—have decided to join the BJP next week. Lalatendu had formed “Lulu Sena”, which has considerable influence in the Brahmagiri area of the state.
Last week, former BJD MLA Ashok Kumar Panigrahi joined the BJP. Panigrahi was suspended from the party after he contested the 2014 elections as an independent candidate from Bijepur Assembly constituency, leading to the defeat of BJD’s official candidate, Prasanna Acharya. He is likely to be the BJP’s candidate in the upcoming byelection for the Bijepur seat, which has been necessitated following the death of sitting Congress MLA Subal Sahu.
Two ex-MLAs–Utkal Keshari Parida (Odisha Gana Parishad) and Dolagovind Nayak (Congress)—also recently joined the party. Sources in the BJP claim that there was strong resentment within the Congress, especially after the panchayat elections, and infighting in that party is at its peak. Therefore, a large number of Congress leaders may join the BJP in the days to come. Odisha BJP spokesperson Sajjan Sharma said this is the beginning of the BJP’s rise in Odisha. “In the panchayat elections, the BJP grabbed the second position in the state, and now we are on way to becoming the number one party. The days of the Naveen Patnaik government are numbered,” he added.
In the panchayat elections, the BJP emerged as the major gainer by becoming the second largest party in the rural areas of Odisha, pushing the Congress to the third position. The BJD, however, won the majority of seats. While the BJD won 460 out of 851 seats, the BJP got 306 seats and the Congress only 66 (down from 128).
If the panchayat election data is extrapolated to Assembly seats, the BJD would get 92 seats, the BJP 44 seats, while the Congress would get below 10. The next Assembly elections in Odisha would coincide with the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. In the last elections, the Congress had won 16 Assembly seats, while it scored zero in the Lok Sabha. BJD MP from Kendrapara, Jay Panda, said sources, is in touch with the BJP and can join the party at an appropriate time. It is believed that there could be a mass rebellion in the BJD next year. Sources said the Congress, which secured about 19 % votes in the panchayat polls, is gradually losing grassroots workers. BJP national president Amit Shah visited Bhubaneswar last month and discussed the strategy to strengthen the organisation. He set a target of winning 120 out of 147 seats in the Assembly elections. Shah also compared Naveen Patnaik to a defunct transformer and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a power house. The BJD had won 117 seats in the last Assembly elections with 93 lakh votes. BJP leaders feel that if the party gets 400 votes in each of the 36,000 booths in the state, it will be able to get 1.4 crore votes and can easily cross 100+ mark and form the government there.