With all poll surveys suggesting Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal will be a clear winner in Orissa, it appears to be a fait accompli for the national media. However, what is being overlooked is that there are twin polls in the state. People will vote in two phases, on on April 10 and 17, to elect not only 21 Lok Sabha MPs but also legislators for 147 seats in the Orissa assembly. It is these simultaneous polls that make the political scene so complex and interesting.
First, the parliamentary polls. The fact that Naveen Patnaik has refused to spell out his role in national politics post-polls has been a negative for him. By isolating himself from all possible post-poll formations, Naveen may have played safe but it is likely to hurt his parliamentary votes. Contrary to the general belief in the national media, the situation on the ground does not indicate a cakewalk for Naveen.
Consider the many factors that have undermined his party’s standing—anti-incumbency, the Shah Commission’s indictment of the state government in the Rs 60,000-crore mining scam, the involvement of ruling party politicians in the multi-crore chit fund scam, and alleged complicity in the coalblock allocation scam. On top of that is the threat of rebels cutting into his votebank in over half of the assembly seats. Then there’s a resurgent BJP that claims to be riding on a Modi wave.
BJD vice-president Kalpataru Das, a close aide of Naveen Patnaik, is unperturbed. He says the party will comfortably win 110 of the 147 assembly seats and 18 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, indeed may even touch the 125-mark in the assembly if things improve further. What should also make things easy for Naveen this time, he says, is the pro-poor schemes and announcements of a plethora of please-all sops to appease virtually every section of voters.
But this comfort is not visible in the CM’s body language. A senior BJD leader says Naveen hates complacency and leaves nothing to chance but this time “he is a little unsure of things”. “In 2009, the Rs 2/kg rice was the clinching factor for BJD’s resounding victory. Now the poor get rice at Rs 1 a kg but that’s not going to make much difference,” he says.
This is the first time since 2004 that Naveen is leading the battle without his Chanakya, master strategist and former bureaucrat Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who was thrown out of the party for allegedly plotting a coup in 2012. Mohapatra now has his own regional outfit, the Odisha Jan Morcha (OJM), and it could play spoilsport for the BJD.
Moreover, there’s the rebel factor, which has become the biggest headache for the ruling party. This time Naveen has denied party tickets to 36 sitting MLAs and 6 MPs. Of them only one, former minister Anjali Behera, who carries the ‘Pyarimohan’ stigma on her head, has chosen to fight as an independent. “The rest have kept quiet and even if they create any mischief, the damage will be minimal” says Kalpataru Das.
But by all accounts, the rebels could cause serious damage in the coastal region, considered an invincible bastion of the BJD. In 2009, the party had swept the region, winning 69 of the 77 assembly seats in this belt. This time, cut-throat competition for ‘tickets’ in virtually every single seat here has caused so much bad blood that no amount of cajoling or threats can stop the rebels from working against the official candidates. And that’s good news for Naveen’s opponents.
Senior Congress leader and chief of the party’s media cell Narasingh Mishra, who is contesting the Bolangir assembly constituency, says, “The BJD faces problems of rebel candidates in nearly 45 of the assembly seats it won last time...it could lead to disastrous results for the ruling party.” Former BJP state president and Lok Sabha candidate in Sambalpur, Suresh Pujari, pushes up the figure further. He believes the BJD is in deep trouble in at least 54 assembly seats where party candidates had won by a slender margin in ’09.
One thing in the ruling party’s favour is the pathetic way the Congress party has disintegrated as a political force in the state—thanks to a series of rash, self-destructive moves by the party think-tank in Delhi. It’s also helped catapult the BJP centrestage. The changes made in the state Congress in 2013 ultimately led to an exodus of senior leaders from the party, reducing it to a rump and leaving party workers utterly demoralised and rudderless. The height of the tragedy came when Leader of the Opposition in the assembly, Bhupinder Singh, quit the party and landed up straight at Naveen’s residence to pledge his allegiance to him.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), making waves in the North, has been a non-starter here, and is described more as a signboard party in Orissa. Their mysterious silence over the corruption charges against the BJD government has made their presence in the electoral battle a non-event. The Left—CPI, CPI(M)and CPI(ML)—have an alliance of sorts but are a marginal force in the battle. The dozen-plus small parties did try to form a BJP-led united front but that fell through. Now, all that they will do is divide the anti-BJD votes even further.
So what will the final scorecard look like on May 16? There is plenty of time for the situation on the ground to change before people cast their votes. But as of now, it is the BJD which is ahead in both the assembly and parliamentary polls. But there is serious doubt whether it can repeat its 2009 feat.
Sampad Mahapatra is a senior journalist based in Orissa
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The state government did a fine job preparing for and dealing with the recent super cyclone, keeping the loss of human life down to a minimum.
ODISHA Joins a long list of states where the CON Party is OUT OF POWER FOR VERY VERY LONG TIME...And certainly the state is not doing badly..
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