The speculation of a coalition between Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in Odisha, prior to 2024 Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly polls dissolved in the air! Let’s have a look at the failing stories of coalition in the land from 1941 to 2008.

Bhaskar Parichha

At this time, there are two major political parties operating at the national level. The first is the ‘NDA’, which is spearheaded by the BJP, while the second is the ‘I.N.D.I.A’, led by the Congress.

Over the years, several coalition governments have been established both at the center and in different states, such as Odisha. These alliances are typically formed with the aim of serving the greater good of the nation and the respective states, rather than due to political pressure. However, the landscape of alliance politics in Odisha presents a unique history and narrative.

The Odisha Legislative Assembly held its first election in 1937 after the establishment of a separate province. During this election, 60 to 56 seats were up for grabs. The Congress, the National Party, and a coalition party were the main contenders. Despite the Congress winning a majority with 37 seats, National Party leader Krishnachandra Gajapati Narayan Deo became Prime Minister of Odisha in April 1937.

However, Congress MLA Party leader Biswanath Das took over as Prime Minister on July 19 of the same year. The first session of the Legislative Assembly took place on July 28 at Ravenshaw College, where the MLAs were sworn in on the 26th and 27th.

Following the resignation of the Congress party due to the Second World War, Gajapati once again formed a coalition government on November 24, 1941, with the support of MLAs from other parties. The government included Congress MLA Godabarish Mishra and Maulbi Abdus Shovan Khan, who won the seat reserved for Muslims. However, due to changing alliances, the first government of Odisha resigned on June 29, 1944.

In the 1957 elections, under Singhdeo’s leadership, the Ganatantra Parishad secured 51 seats out of 140 in the Odisha Assembly, while the Congress obtained 56 seats. On May 22, 1959, Rajendra Narayan Singhdeo, the opposition party leader, joined hands with Harekrishna Mahatab, the Chief Minister, and the leader of the Congress party. Although the Congress-GP government initially functioned harmoniously, it eventually crumbled on February 25, 1961, due to escalating divisions within the government.

During the 1967 assembly elections, the Congress party secured a mere 31 seats, whereas Singhdeo’s ‘Swatantra party’ managed to win 49 seats and Mahatab’s ‘Jan Congress’ secured 26 seats. These two parties contested against the Congress in the election. On March 8, 1967, Rajendra Narayan Singhdeo took oath as Chief Minister of Odisha, leading the coalition. However, his government faced premature collapse on January 9, 1971, due to increasing divisions within the alliance.

In the 1971 elections, the Legislative Assembly did not witness any party or faction securing an absolute majority. The Congress emerged victorious with 51 seats, while the ‘Swatantra Party’ and the ‘Utkal Congress’ secured 36 and 33 seats respectively. Given the situation of a hung assembly, none of the leaders from these three parties could reach a consensus on the appointment of the chief minister.

Consequently, the ‘Utkal Congress’ and the ‘Swatantra Party’ jointly decided to appoint former Prime Minister Biswanath Das, who was not a member of the assembly, as chief minister. On April 9, 1971, Biswanath Das took the oath and assumed the role of Chief Minister in this unique coalition government. Subsequently, he participated in the by-election for the Rourkela Assembly seat and won.

However, some leaders from both the ruling party and the opposition were reluctant to accept Biswanath Das’ leadership. Both internal and external factors contributed to the creation of distractions. As the situation became unmanageable, Biswanath Das’ government collapsed on June 14, 1972. Factionalism was rampant at that time.

In this context, Nandini Satpathy, a minister in Indira Gandhi’s Congress government at the center, was chosen as the leader of the Congress MLA party and was appointed as Chief Minister on the same day.

Since Nandini Devi was not a member of the Assembly, she had to win the by-election from Cuttack. Meanwhile, under the leadership of Biju Patnaik, the Pragati Dal was formed and Biju Babu became the leader of the opposition party. However, Nandini’s government fell on March 3, 1973 due to opposition from some MLAs, including those from the Congress who initially supported her government.

Subsequently, in the 1974 elections, the Congress party secured 147 out of 69 seats and formed the government in Odisha with Nandini Devi as its leader once again.

In 1975, a state of national emergency was declared, resulting in the imprisonment of numerous individuals, including opposition leaders and workers. It was during this critical period that the Janata Party emerged. Comprising of various political entities such as the Lok Dal, Congress (O), Jana Sangh, and Socialists, the Janata Party was formed at the national level under the guidance of the revered Jayaprakash Narayan. During this time, the CPI supported the Congress, while the CPM lent its support to the Janata Party.

In 1977, the Janata Party government was established at the Center, with Morarji Desai assuming the role of Prime Minister. At this point of time, the Odisha Assembly elections took place, resulting in the Janata Party securing 110 seats and forming the government in Odisha on June 26, with Nilamani Routray as Chief Minister. However, due to internal conflicts within the Janata Party, both at the national and state levels, Nilamani Routray’s tenure as Chief Minister of Odisha came to an end on February 17, 1980.

Although the Janata Party was not a unified entity, it consisted of four major parties as partners. As these parties remained steadfast in pursuing their own agendas, the Janata Party governments at both the central and state levels eventually disintegrated.

During the period from 1980 to 1990, the Congress government held power in Odisha. However, in 1990, the ‘Janata Dal’ led by Biju Patnaik achieved a remarkable victory by securing 123 seats in Odisha. Despite forming an alliance with left parties like CPI and CPM, they were not part of the government. The Congress, on the other hand, only managed to win 10 seats, marking its lowest performance in history up to that point.

Following the demise of Biju Patnaik on April 17, 1997, his youngest son Naveen Patnaik entered politics and won the by-election from the Aska Lok Sabha constituency, responding to the public’s demand and the encouragement of Janata Party leaders. Highlighting the continuous neglect from the central government, Naveen Babu formed the ‘Biju Janata Dal’ or BJD on December 26 of the same year.

In the 1998 elections for the 12th Lok Sabha, the BJP and BJD contested together, resulting in the party winning 17 seats and being included in the government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, after Vajpayee’s government failed after 13 months, the BJD-BJP alliance secured 19 seats in the 1999 elections for the 13th Lok Sabha.

Between 1995 and 2000, Odisha witnessed three changes in Chief Ministers under Congress rule. The devastating cyclone of 1999 severely impacted the state, highlighting the fragility of its financial system. Subsequently, the Odisha Assembly elections were conducted in two phases in February 2000. The BJD-BJP alliance led by Naveen Patnaik secured victory in 106 seats and formed a stable government. In 2004, the state assembly elections were synchronized with the Lok Sabha elections, a decision proposed by the Odisha government.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-led UPA emerged victorious in Delhi, defeating the NDA. However, the outcome was quite different in Odisha, where the Congress managed to secure only 2 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats. The JMM party won one seat, while the BJD-BJP alliance emerged as the clear winner with 18 seats.

In the 2004 Odisha assembly elections held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections, the BJD-BJP alliance formed a government for the second consecutive term, with Naveen Patnaik leading the way with 100 seats. Despite the BJP withdrawing its support from the alliance government towards the end of 2008, Naveen Patnaik’s administration remained intact and did not collapse.

The BJP once again showed interest in negotiating with the BJD for the 2009 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. However, an agreement could not be reached. During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, BJD won 14 and its ally CPI secured one seat, while the Congress party won six seats. Similarly, in the 2009 assembly elections, BJD claimed victory in 103 seats, with BJP only managing to secure 6 seats and the Congress party winning 27 seats.

From 2009 to 2019, BJD emerged victorious in the elections and formed a government led by Naveen Patnaik. This summarizes the timeline of the alliance government in Odisha from 1941 to 2008.

In a sense, coalition politics in Odisha is one of instability and incompatibility!

(Mr Parichha is a senior journalist, author and columnist. Views are personal.)