Party’s central leadership is indicating that the state is on top of their priority list.

 

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition party in Odisha, is preparing a larger strategy to unseat the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the state. Forming the government in Odisha is in the party’s core agenda as it aims to increase its footprint in the electoral landscape of the country. Party leaders privy to developments told The Sunday Guardian that the central leadership is trying to replicate the West Bengal model, where the BJP is successful in creating a bi-polar political order and became a major force both in parliamentary elections and state elections. In the last five years, the party’s electoral base has increased significantly in the coastal state and the immediate task is to put up a considerable good show in the upcoming panchayat elections scheduled in 2022.

Experts and party leaders say that it will give momentum and energy to the party in the run-up to the Assembly and parliamentary polls scheduled in 2024. Nauri Nayak, vice-president of Odisha BJP, said: “Our preparation for the upcoming panchayat polls is on war footing, we have established a panchayati wing to oversee the preparations for the polls. Regular meetings of our elected members of Zila Parishad, ward and Villages are taking place. Our aim is to win maximum seats in the polls. We won roughly 300 Zila parishad seats in 2017, this time our aim is to win at least 600 seats and emerge as the number one party in these elections which are also the mini-Assembly elections and then unseat the BJD in the 2024 Assembly polls.”

Party insiders also feel that the state is very crucial for the saffron party in the 2024 parliamentary polls as it can compensate the seats lost in other parts of the country from Odisha, which sends 21 members to the Lok Sabha. The party is not leaving any stone unturned to corner the ruling BJD and present itself as a viable and credible opposition in the state. It has been organizing protests and agitations across the state against non-procurement of paddy by the state government and is raising it in the ongoing Assembly session also where it is the main opposition party.

Odisha showed a completely different trend in the parliamentary and Assembly election which were held simultaneously in 2019. While the BJP was successful in winning eight parliamentary seats out of 21 from the state, it won only 23 seats in the Assembly of 147. The positive thing for the party was that its vote share increased from 18.2% in 2014 to 31.8% in the 2019 Assembly polls. In the parliamentary polls, the party got 39% votes. Like adjoining West Bengal, the opposition vote shifted towards the BJP in Odisha. Hence the performance in the panchayat election will act as a catalyst for the party.

Shailendra Mahapatra, a Bhuvneshwar-based political observer and writer, said: “ In the 2017 panchayat polls, the BJP emerged as the main opposition party as it won 290 Zila Parishad seats while the ruling BJD won 465 seats in the state. In 2012, the BJP had only won 29 seats, therefore the momentum for 2019 Lok Sabha polls was achieved through the local bodies polls. This time the party had a base vote and cadre which was absent previously; therefore, it is trying very hard to emerge as a strong alternative against the BJD. The party is very strong in tribal districts.”

The central leadership of the BJP is also giving indications through its moves that the state is on top of their priority list. In the recent Cabinet expansion, three important portfolios were allocated to Odisha leaders. Ashwini Vaishnav had been allocated the important railway ministry, Dharmendra Pradhan got the Human Resource Development ministry, while Bisweshwar Tudu got the Minister of State (MoS) in Tribal Affairs ministry, as the state has a massive population of tribals. Despite all these moves, the party has to cover a long road in the state as still, the BJD is the dominant force with 114 MLAs in the house of 147. However, the panchayat polls would help the BJP strengthen its position as the leading force in the state.