Naveen Patnaik's BJD Holds Its Ground in Odisha

The state witnessed simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls.

New Delhi: The Biju Janata Dal is holding its ground in Odisha, with 42% votes. It is leading in 80 out of the 145 constituencies and 14 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats.

The BJP, with 37% of the votes – an increase of around 15 percentage points from 2014 – has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition. Congress vote share has come down to 16% according to the latest Election Commission figures. This is a drop of around 15% from 2014.

According to mid-morning Election Commission figures, the Biju Janata Dal is leading in eight seats while the Bharatiya Janata Party is leading in four seats, out of a total 21 seats.

The vote shares are interesting. While BJD is retaining its vote share at around 40%, the Congress at 17% has come down massively. The BJP seems to have gained at its cost. It increased its vote share from around 21% to 38%.

The BJD has been in power for the last 19 years. 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.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party has managed to make deep inroads in the state after Narendra Modi came to power. The saffron party believed that it could make up for its possible losses in the north India in 2019 in states like Odisha and West Bengal.

During the campaign, the BJP led by Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan in the state poached several prominent leaders from the Congress and BJD, and with their help built a significant organisational base across the state. It has played up Union government schemes like Ujjwala and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to drive home its development agenda, even as tried to exploit the regional and caste-based divisions in the state.

BJP workers concentrated on the Lok Sabha polls and campaigned aggressively to project Modi as the only national leader, eventually losing sight of the assembly elections.

At the same time, Congress’s canvassing, which initially started quite aggressively against the BJD government in the state and the BJP government at the Centre, wilted in front of the muscle of the other two parties. Towards the end of the campaign, the Congress house looked divided, with each leader concentrating only on winning their own seats.

The ruling BJD focused primarily on state-level issues, campaigned on its schemes for farmers and women, stuck to its policy of equidistance with the national parties, and fought the elections as yet another referendum for the chief minister. Additionally, Patnaik sought to consolidate its popularity among women by being the first party in India to reserve 33% candidature for women in these polls.  

Also read: Live Election Results 2019

Consequently, both assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the state transformed from what initially looked like a triangular contest to a bipolar battle between the BJP and BJD.

In an interview to The Wire, BJD party spokesperson Pratap Deb had said that the party was battling an unprecedented anti-incumbency but expressed confidence that neither of the opposition parties – BJP and Congress – will not be able to dent it around 40% vote share enough to replace it in the state.  

Yet for the BJP to make a dent in Patnaik’s pocket borough, it will need much more than a good campaign.

Consider the difference in 2014 vote shares of all the three principal players.

The BJD secured 43.35% and 44.10% of the total votes in the last parliamentary and assembly polls. In contrast, the BJP could get only 21.54% and  17.99%. The Congress, more or less, retained its votes that it got in the previous elections.

BJP is certain that it will see a jump in its vote share. However, it will be interesting to see on whose expense the saffron party will gain.

In a first, the eastern state saw a four-phase polls from April 11 to April 29. Analysts believed that it gave BJP the time to slowly build its campaign in favour of Modi. The state is still recovering from one of the worst cyclones to hit it in the last two decades. Whichever party forms the government, it will have an uphill task to reconstruct much of coastal Odisha.