Naveen Looking West

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has taken a Policy of “Look West.” He is trying hard to consolidate the position of Biju Janata Dal in Western Odisha, where the party does not enjoy much strength.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken “Look East” policy to strengthen BJP hold in the country, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is looking West to strength BJD hold in the state.

Both Mr.Modi and Mr.Patnaik have their reasons for looking in opposite directions. Prime Minister focuses on the East and North-Eastern States, because BJP is unlikely to repeat its performance in North India.

Therefore, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine feels that the party should focus on East India, mostly on Odisha and West Bengal. Both the states have about 60 Lok Sabha seats.

Mr.Modi’s focus on Odisha has a separate meaning, because BJP leadership thinks that it will be easy to penetrate into the state because BJD has already ruled the state for 19 years in a row. Therefore, BJP wants to take advantage of anti-incumbency factor.

The saffron party has been comparatively strong in Western Odisha districts. BJP has a support base in the Hindi heartland and the people of Western Odisha are comfortable with Hindi. BJP had its first public meeting at Balangir in the 1980s when Saffron Veteran L K Advani addressed a rally.

BJP too has a special advantage in the Western Region because it got most of the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats in this part of the state under BJD-BJP alliance which lasted till 2009. When BJD kept most of the seats in Coastal and Southern districts, BJP was given command over the Western Districts. In the 2000 and 2004 Assembly elections, BJP won mostly from Western Odisha.

Of the 10 BJP law makers today, eight were elected to the Assembly from Western Odisha. In 2014 Assembly elections, only Bibhuti Bhusan Harichandan and Govind Das were elected from Chilika in Khurda district and Remuna in Balasore district respectively.

All the eight other saffron lawmakers were elected from the Western Belt -- Rourkela, Brajrajnagar, Nuapada, Khariar, Padampur, Kuchinda, Patnagarh and Deogarh.

Though BJP could win only two seats in the Coastal Region, it failed to open its account in the Southern Zone, where Congress is comparatively strong.

Naveen’s BJD, on the other hand, continued to dominate politics in the coastal region, bagging most seats. As BJP’s 80 per cent of strength lies in the western region, it is natural for Naveen to focus on these districts in order to check the saffron party’s political journey. This apart, BJP had also performed extremely well in rural polls in 2017 in these pockets. Since then, Naveen has been focusing on the western region.

In its bid to strengthen its base in the western Odisha, Naveen has brought Naba Kishore Das, Jharsuguda lawmaker of Congress to the BJD fold.

“Mr. Das has organizational capabilities and his joining BJD will strengthen the party,” admits Naveen Patnaik.

Political observers feel that BJD is likely to take Jogesh Singh of Sundargarh to its fold.  Both Das and Singh have meanwhile resigned as Congress lawmakers.

Sources in the ruling BJD said that efforts are on to induct more Congress MLAs from the region. However, BJD could not take any of the BJP lawmakers so far to its fold. Perhaps basing on the 2017 rural poll results, BJP National General Secretary Suresh Pujari has claimed that the saffron party would bag all the 40 Assembly seats of western Odisha. He said this while claiming that BJP’s 120 Plus Mission is not impossible.

Against this backdrop, Naveen has so far intensified his campaign in western Odisha. Much before the election dates are announced, the BJD supremo has already visited major districts of the western region. He has been to Jharsuguda, Balangir and Sambalpur and announced packages for the districts apart from inaugurating and laying foundation stones of projects.

Naveen too has plans to hold a massive farmers rally soon in Bargarh district for the entire western districts. This meeting will be one of the biggest ever congregations. Ground work has already been initiated.

Naveen was worried for at least seven western Odisha districts bordering Chhattisgarh where the farmers get Rs 2,500 per quintal of paddy. The farmers in Odisha are getting only Rs 1,750 as MSP.

The new Congress Government in Chhattisgarh has also announced farm loan waiver which could have its impact on the farmers of Odisha in the seven bordering districts.

Though the State Government has implemented KALIA scheme and distributed Rs 5,000 as the first installment to farmers, the ruling party leaders are not sure how people will react, when Congress will highlight loan waiver and subsidy for paddy procurement.

It is a fact that there is a heavy demand for KALIA Scheme, but BJD lawmakers and even Ministers of Western Odisha are not sure whether KALIA dole will satisfy the farmers fully. The opposition Congress has also been gaining support in Western Districts due to Rahul Gandhi’s announcement of loan waiver and lucrative subsidy on paddy.

Congress has a sizable following in Sundargarh, Jharsuguda and Bargarh districts. The old party has been trying to woo farmers, who trounced BJP in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. 

The Pradesh Congress Committee has also decided to invite leaders from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to campaign for the party candidates.

Sitting pretty strong in the coastal region of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik has now to “Look West” to counter both BJP and Congress. Naveen has also proved that a focused attention to a particular area can bring changes as BJD candidate Rita Sahu won the by-polls in Bijepur assembly constituency by a whopping margin of 42,000 votes. And recently the Congress candidate in Bijepur by-poll, Pranay Sahu also joined BJD, further humiliating Congress.

As BJD has intensified its activities in Western Odisha, it has to be observed how BJP will try to protect its fort; and Congress with blessings of neighboring State will be able to revive its position in the western region.

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