Booster Dose For BJD

It might just be a by-election for the people of Odisha. But it was not just another election for Odisha’s four-time Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Those who have seen Naveen on television immediately after the result was announced can only realize the importance of Bijepur verdict.

A beaming Naveen gave statements, without any notes, and his body language was not less than that of a sprinter after winning an Olympic Gold. It was, however, another matter that Mr.Pradhan preferred to remain in the national capital on that day and could be seen on television 24 hours after Naveen appearing on the small screen.
The Bijepur by-poll in 2018 has a huge impact on Odisha Politics which took a turn after the 2017 rural polls. Immediately after the rural polls, Mr.Pradhan in a statement had said, “Naveen can also be defeated in Odisha.” 
BJP leaders said this after the party raised its tally in Zilla Parishad elections from just 36 seats in 2012 to 297 in 2017. BJP, which secured only 18% vote in the 2014 Assembly elections, got more than 32% votes in the three-tier panchayat polls, pushing the Congress to a poor third spot.
BJP’s unexpected success in the panchayat elections and BJD’s drubbing in tribal seats and parts of western Odisha encouraged BJP President Amit Shah to set an ambitious plan of Mission 120+.
 BJD, on the other hand, lost about 180 Zilla Parishad seats in the 2017 rural polls while BJP registered a perceptible increase in its seats tally. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the midst of high voltage campaign in Utter Pradesh took time to make a mention of the Odisha rural poll results.
 Naveen, who has never experienced defeat ever since he came to politics in 1997, was left shell shocked and was very apprehensive over the rise of the saffron outfit in Odisha.
BJD leaders were, in fact, worried as how to contain the saffron surge in the state. Naveen was upset; a sense of fear had gripped him.
 Immediately after the rural polls, BJP held its National Executive meeting in Odisha and Modi received an overwhelming response in a road show in Bhubaneswar, which created panic in the BJD camp. The regional outfit boss had started losing confidence.
While taking measures to face the saffron surge, Naveen undertook publicity campaign and for the first time tried to boost his own image.
The Chief Minister came out and did not hesitate to allow students to take selfie with him in public places. In May, Naveen dropped about a dozen of Ministers and engaged them in organizational work. In December last year, he sacked Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout for his “casteist” remarks against Brahmins. Last month, he suspended Baijayant Panda, Lok Sabha MP and his party’s most visible face in Delhi.
Naveen’s pro-active measures boosted the image of BJD, which ensured BJP’s defeat in State BJP President Basant Panda’s home turf in Nuapada district, where it failed to win a single Zilla Parishad seat in July 2017.
In Jajpur district also, where party Chief Amit Shah visited for the booth connect programme, BJP lost the local ward election in October 2017. BJP also lost several by-polls in urban and rural zones.
Though the Bijepur by-poll result showed that BJD continued its top position in the State politics, BJP also registered growth while it was almost like “Ram nam satya hai” for the Congress party.
There should be no doubt that Congress has lost its ground even in its own fort. The party had retained Bijepur Assembly seat for three consecutive times in 2004, 2009 and 2014. However, this time the party candidate Pranaya Sahu lost his deposit. 
The Congress candidate got about 40,000 votes less than the votes his party polled in 2014 Assembly elections. Thanks to the infighting among the State Congress leaders and active campaign by former Union Minister Srikant Jena.
BJD not only took Subal Sahu’s widow Rita Sahu to its fold, but also the Congress rank and file in Bijepur went with BJD.
Congress, out of power since 2000, had been weakened further without a strong leader to take charge of the party. Both, ruling BJD and the opposition BJP have been benefited from the weakness of Congress.
While in the rural polls, BJP reaped benefit from Congress’s weakness, in the Bijepur by-election, it was BJD which was benefited. Traditional Congress votes are now being divided between BJD and BJP.
Both BJP National President Amit Shah and Congress President Rahul Gandhi must learn lessons from Naveen Patnaik’s organizational skills and his spirit of turning adverse situation to one’s favour.
Just setting catchy slogans like Mission 120 Plus does not help a party win people’s confidence. With barely a few months left for the next general elections, both the national parties should adopt a state specific strategy in order to face the mighty Naveen Patnaik, who even after 18 years in power continues to remain popular among the masses.
Hard work alone could benefit the opposition parties. Rahul Gandhi has to cover an extra mile because the people of Odisha have already taken Congress as a non-serious player in the coming general elections. 
And Rahul must instil confidence in his party workers and he must give the impression that he is serious and means business. The oldest party has already started getting support of people in other parts of the country, but not in Odisha.
 BJP, which aspires to dislodge Naveen, needs to discipline its cadre and tell them that people of Odisha hate violence. BJP leaders in Odisha will also have to learn a lesson from Naveen to win confidence of people without speaking against anyone including rivals while campaigning for their party candidate. People support suave Naveen because he does not speak against any one during campaigning, while working hard to ensure his own candidate’s victory.  
And Bijepur result has turned the table for BJD, which was in a worried state. It has served as a booster dose for both the party and its boss.

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