Odisha: BJD Beats Anti-Incumbency, Naveen Patnaik Set to Return for Fifth Term

Despite a remarkable BJP victory across most parts of India, the BJD appears to be holding on to its pocket borough, even in the parliamentary elections.

New Delhi: Naveen Patnaik is on his way to form the fifth consecutive government in Odisha. His party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), is comfortably leading in more than 110 seats out of a total 145 in the state assembly. In fact, it increased its vote share marginally from 43.35% in the 2014 assembly polls to around 45% at the time of writing.

Despite a remarkable BJP victory across most parts of India, the BJD appears to be holding on to its pocket borough, even in the parliamentary elections. With around 43% vote share – a drop of around one percentage point compared to its performance in 2014 parliamentary polls – it is comfortably leading in 14 out of 21 seats.

However, the BJP has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition party in both assembly and parliamentary polls. The saffron party appears to be winning 22 seats in the assembly. Its vote share has increased from around 18% to more than 30%.

Its parliamentary performance is even better as it is headed to win seven seats. From 21.54% in 2014, it has increased its vote share by almost 18 percentage points. The final figures are yet to come but it can be safely said that its campaign to “vote Modi for PM” for Lok Sabha polls has worked.

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Congress became the de facto casualty in the process. Its vote share came down to nearly 16% from 26% in 2014, and it could not open its account in the parliamentary elections. In assembly, it appears it will win a meagre 12 constituencies.  

Despite minor losses, both in terms of seats and vote share, the BJD beat anti-incumbency sentiments through multiple strategies. It became the first party to reserve 33% seats for women, a measure many say Patnaik took to consolidate his popularity among women voters.

Then it also announced a farmers’ support programme KALIA and changed more than half of the BJD’s incumbent MLAs and MPs.

Patnaik also adopted a pacifist approach towards the BJP. He maintained that he has and will remain equidistant to both the national parties. In most of his speeches and interviews, he strongly asserted that the BJD is an Odisha-centric party and is concerned only with state-level concerns.

Perhaps, this is the reason Odisha voted for him yet again despite the fact that Modi is very popular in the state. Over the years, Patnaik has implemented various populist programmes for the poor and has developed a world-class disaster management programme. Such factors led to his successive victories.

In contrast, Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief minister of the neighbouring West Bengal, confronted the BJP strongly as it gained ground in the state. The aggressive campaign from both sides helped the saffron party build up its campaign against the state government.

The BJP, which is on its way to winning a significant number of seats in Bengal, projected Mamata’s aggression against opposition forces as anti-democratic, which further fuelled the anti-incumbency sentiment against her.   

Patnaik, on the other hand, refused to be caged in the BJP’s narrative and built his own state-centric political campaign.

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