With fresh electoral victories in rural polls, a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is getting ready to take on the mighty Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for political supremacy in Odisha. However, BJP is sending a confusing signal by cutting its roots in different parts of the State, when the political climate for the saffron party seems to be favorable across the State.
In fact, Odisha has been focus of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his call for "Look at the East". However, if the party goes on uprooting its roots at the local level, can its desire of ousting Naveen Patnaik's BJD be fulfilled?
The recent development relating to panchayat elections has brought both joy and worries for the people opposed to both Congress and BJD. The people, who see a lot of hope in BJP, are in fact worried over the elimination process of leaders at the grassroots level.
Over the dispute on Zilla Parishad President election in Sambalpur, the BJP State leadership suspended former Minister and senior leader Jayanarayan Mishra and 10 others for allegedly assaulting BJP State Vice President Sameer Mohanty.
BJP State President Basant Panda announced suspension of Mishra, State Executive Member Nauri Nayak and nine newly elected ZP members for six years. When Panda announced six-year banishment term for the 11 Sambalpur leaders including Mishra, he clearly forgot that 2019 general elections were barely two years away.
Can the saffron party go ahead without the help and assistance of these 11 leaders who built saffron base in the region?
Mr.Mishra, however, said he had no role in the incident and he condemned the attack. In fact, he admitted that Mr.Mohanty is his close friend. Sameer was attacked by a group of BJP supporters and local leaders over selection of Zilla Parishad President candidate.
"The party had unanimously decided a candidate for the post of ZP President, but some party activists wanted their nominee to be considered for the post," Mr.Mohanty said adding that though there was resentment among some activists, it was purely an internal matter which would be sorted out.
What wrong the BJP state leadership did requires postmortem. The party should have verified who was instrumental in the win of the BJP candidates in Sambalpur. State leadership's primary responsibility was to take the people, who made it possible against the ruling BJD, into confidence before electing a candidate for the ZP President's post.
Everybody in Odisha BJP knew that it was Jaynarayan Mishra and not anybody else, who ensured the lotus bloom in Sambalpur. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the BJP state leadership to take Jaynarayan into confidence, said a BJP veteran. But, for some reason or the other, Mr.Panda preferred to go by the words of Suresh Pujari, who has never been successful in electoral politics.
While Jaynarayan is firmly rooted among the people of Sambalpur, Mr.Pujari has not been able to become an MLA or an MP though he contested polls several times.
And forcing the local leaders to accept someone as their leader may not be possible in the present situation for the BJP because the party is not in power. People who can help BJP come to power need to be handled with care, otherwise, they may turn hostile. The recent development in BJP in Sambalpur has been a peculiar case in the BJP politics where grassroots level leaders are ignored and the people who worked for the party got a slap.
Similarly, in case of Sundargarh, BJP lost the Zilla Parishad President's chair to BJD, only due to lack of coordination between the party leaders. Sundargarh was the lone Lok Sabha seat in Odisha where BJP could win the last general election. BJP won in the Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat for which Jual Oram could become a Union Minister.
People who understand politics know for sure that it was Rourkela MLA Dilip Ray, who played a vital role in the victory of BJP's Jual Oram in Sundargarh. However, this time round during the Zilla Parishad elections, Dilip Ray, who made Mr.Oram win, was clearly ignored.
Mr.Ray preferred to keep himself away from the panchayat elections while Oram camped for several days in the district. But his attempts failed to yield any result despite announcing that BJP would support any candidate who helped it in the Zilla Parishad President elections. In the process, the ruling BJD captured Sundargarh Zilla Parishad with help of a Congress member and three others belonging to CPI, CPI (M) and George Tirkey.
Mr.Oram failed to garner support of others which ensured the defeat of the BJP candidate. Had the party leadership kept Mr.Ray in good humour, BJP could have formed Zilla Parishad in Sundargarh also. This is because Mr.Ray has the ground touch and knows how to take others along. Notably, Mr.Ray was instrumental in the formation of an alliance between BJD and BJP in 2000.
Moreover, Bijay Mohapatra and many other senior leaders who have organizational skill could have been utilized in the panchayat elections. Though BJP secured 297 Zilla Parishad seats this time, it could have been much more had the party utilized its senior leaders reserve. The party mostly got the anti-BJD votes and people have expressed their anger against the sitting BJD MLAs which helped BJP win so many ZP seats.
Now BJP is trying to penetrate to booth level as the leadership knows that it has little strength at the grassroots level. Against this backdrop, State BJP leadership need to be very articulate as the party aspires to come to power in 2019.
BJP, under the leadership of Dharmendra Pradhan, is taking on BJD on the issues of corruption, inefficiency and non-development. But the saffron brigade needs to fight the mighty BJD with a unified spirit.
However, these incidents reveal the weakness of BJP at the grassroots level, which is trying to channelize the energy in the State in a positive way. Impulsive actions of short-sighted and superficial elements will certainly harm the interest of BJP by cutting its own roots, feel political observers.