In anticipation of the 2024 Assembly elections in Odisha, there is a significant amount of tension building up between the ruling BJD and the aspiring BJP

Bhaskar Parichha

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik confidently states that the BJP would not be able to secure victory in Odisha for the next decade, firmly asserting that his BJD party would continue its reign for the sixth consecutive term after the upcoming assembly elections. Patnaik’s response came in light of PM Narendra Modi’s announcement during an election rally earlier in the day, where he mentioned the installation of the BJP Government on June 10, in the state.

“Nothing will happen on June 10. BJP will not be able to win the hearts of the people in the next 10 years, forget about June 10,” the chief minister Naveen Patnaik said, maintaining that the BJD will form the government in Odisha for the sixth time.

Modi-Naveen Spat
Modi in his election rally indirectly alluded to BJD leader VK Pandian’s claim of being the rightful heir to Patnaik’s legacy by stating, “I extend an invitation to you all for the BJP chief minister’s oath-taking ceremony in Bhubaneswar on June 10. A leader who is deeply rooted in the state’s culture, language, and heritage will be appointed as the CM.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi supporting his party’s efforts to bring about a change in the government in Odisha is reverberating the air. In a bold move, he directly challenged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to name the districts and their respective headquarter towns without relying on any written material. Modi was never so daring in his statement as far as Naveen is concerned.

VK Pandian, the trusted associate of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, made a claim in Gopalpur that the BJP was making efforts to secure 50 seats in the Assembly election and subsequently divide the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).”I must assert that their motive to dismantle the BJD after the election is their own internal plan. Their aim is not to establish the government, but to augment their numbers,” stated Mr. Pandian while addressing the press amidst the campaign trail.

LEADERSHIP QUESTION
The election in Odisha this time round has sparked speculation about the upcoming leadership.

Whether BJD is facing 25-year anti-incumbency and whether there is a desire for change among some sections of people in Odisha nobody is sure about that. But, banking on this impression, along with Modi’s Guarantee slogan, the BJP is trying to corner more votes than it did last time.

The question remains whether the popularity of Naveen Patnaik will be enough to prevent the BJP from taking power at this time. PM Modi had said in Odisha that “June 4 is the expiry date” for the BJD government and predicted a BJP government in the state for the first time.

Political analysts believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party is poised to secure more victories in both the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. However, the question remains whether these wins will be sufficient to overthrow the ruling Biju Janata Dal government in the state. Also, there is speculation about whether the influence of Naveen Patnaik, the leader of the BJD, can protect the party from the negative sentiment that comes with being in power for 24 long years.

Anti- Incumbency
It is BJP which demands that there is a growing sentiment among the voters of Odisha and that they are tired of the BJD’s 25-year rule. However, the BJD’s strong grassroots network will play a crucial role in the election. The BJD’s strength and the popularity of Naveen are unlikely to dissipate so soon.

Despite the BJP’s limited progress in Odisha, they are poised to gain from the public’s yearning for change. On the other hand, the Congress faces challenges due to its weak organizational presence in many areas of Odisha, hindering its ability to capitalize on the anti-incumbency sentiment. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been actively making inroads in Odisha for quite some time now. During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) emerged victorious by securing 12 out of the state’s 21 seats, while the BJP managed to secure eight seats and the Congress only managed to secure one seat. Experts predict that in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election, the BJP is expected to further increase its seat count.

Weak Ground
In 2019 Assembly elections, the BJD secured a significant victory by winning 112 out of the 147 seats. However, the BJP made significant gains by securing an additional 13 seats, bringing their total to 23 seats. This allowed the BJP to replace the Congress as the primary opposition party in Odisha.

On the other hand, the Congress, with only nine MLAs, will face an uphill battle to remain relevant in the state. While anti-incumbency sentiments may work in their favor, they lack the necessary strength on the ground. In certain remote tribal areas of Odisha, the competition is between the BJD, BJP, and Congress, creating a triangular contest. The Congress might even end up helping the BJP secure some seats.

The BJD is likely to maintain its dominance in Odisha, but the BJP is poised to gain more Lok Sabha seats in the state. Informed voters in Odisha may strategically choose to support different parties in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections.

(Bhaskar Parichha is a senior journalist and columnist. Views expressed as personal.)

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