Naveen Patnaik has once again took the lead and brought back Biju Janata Dal to power in Odisha for the fifth consecutive term, defying anti-incumbency and keeping up the “Modi wave”.
Odisha, which is never known to vote on caste and religious lines, chose to repose its faith in Patnaik after having him at the helm for 20 years. BJD has won in eight seats and was leading in 1o5 of the 146 seats (polls in Patkura were postponed); its LS numbers may shrink from 20 out of 21 (in 2014) to 12 now where it was leading at the time of going to press. BJP was ahead in eight LS seats. At around 11pm the Congress in one of its worst performances ever was leading one one seat by a few hundred votes.
The 72-year old leader of the regional party had wisely refused to bite the bait unlike some of his peers and restricted himself to affairs of the state. The results also prove wrong the speculation that the average voter was mature enough to split their votes for the assembly and LS between the two parties, or more specifically, between Patnaik and Narendra Modi.
The BJD’s campaign relied almost exclusively on the popularity of Patnaik’s image. Patnaik, who has launched a host of development schemes, including his prepoll subsidy for farmers, has managed to rebut any challenges mounted by the BJP.
Advised to introspect after the saffron party’s surprise gain in the February 2017 rural polls, Patnaik began preparing the ground for the 2019 campaign by enhancing financial support to women, the elderly and the poor through schemes and through direct grassroots engagement programmes like Peetha, Biju Yuva Vahini and Kalia.
With a few exceptions, most constituencies saw a close fight with the BJP close at BJD’s heels. The BJD, which won the 2014 polls with margins of a few lakh of votes, saw far fewer such thumping victories. This will weigh on the party’s mind as it prepares for the next urban polls. Crossing the psychological mark of 100 in the assembly will also give the party some respite from any external pressures.
Patnaik’s decision to nominate women in a third of the Lok Sabha seats seems to have paid off, with six of them winning. Particularly blazing was Pramila Bisoi (70), a class-two dropout, representing the 70-lakh odd members of women self-help groups that the BJD has nurtured.
BJP’s only MP from Odisha, Jual Oram, won a massive victory in Sundargarh. The party not only did well in its traditional stronghold of western Odisha, it even won Bargarh under which falls Patnaik’s second assembly constituency. It also made serious inroads into coastal Odisha with leads in Puri, Bhubaneshwar and Balasore at the time of going to press.
The saffron party which had forecast a surprise Tripura-like sweep in Odisha has taken the place of the Congress as the main opposition party in the state but remains far short of its ambitious “Mission 120”, at 22 assembly seats (that it was leading in at the time of going to press), up from ten last time. The Congress’ slide down to nine seats marks a turning point in Odisha’s politics which, until recently, has only been about the Congress and anti-Congress party like the Swatantra Party, the Janata Dal and the Biju Janata Dal.
The 2019 campaign had been one of the most bitter ones fought by the four-time CM, with the BJP accusing him of being insecure and inefficient, and of personal corruption. Its relations are bound to change this term.