The Chieftains 4

As expected, the 2019 elections in Odisha are all set to become totally different from elections in the past two decades. Political equilibrium in the state has completely changed; some leaders have shifted sides and others gone to oblivion, even as BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik continues to remain the most popular leader in the state.

Popularity of Naveen remains unchanged, but his surrounding has certainly undergone a transformation. The strong and die-hard supporters of Biju Patnaik ideology have meanwhile deserted the ruling BJD or being pushed out of the party. Therefore, the scene around Naveen has changed for the first time in the last two decades, which indicates that results may also be different this time.

It is another factor that Naveen has all along remained the pole of the Biju Janata Dal, around whom the entire party revolves. Therefore, there has been no impact on BJD as Naveen remains strong and undisturbed. All conspiracies against him have failed and Biju Patnaik’s younger son has gained positively from all the negative moves of his opponents.

However, this time, there has been a change. Most of the strong soldiers of Naveen have deserted him or being made to quit the party. Coastal region of the state has all along remained a solid base of non-Congress politics, as Biju Patnaik kept it intact for years. Then ruling Congress used to get support largely from western and southern Odisha, while coastal districts all along stood by the Janata Parivar.

This time, before the 2019 polls, certain coastal stalwarts have changed sides and joined the BJP camp which has launched the 120 Plus Mission in the state. As BJP strategists executed an exercise in Assam, when most of the Congress leaders joined the saffron party and brought down the state government, BJP Chief Amit Shah seems to working on a similar plan in Odisha. Shah has taken advantage of the silent resentment in BJD, by inducting a string of leaders from the regional outfit. 

The Chieftains 4, who have joined BJP include Damodar Rout (Jagatsinghpur), Raghunath Mohanty (Balasore), Arjun Sethi (Bhadrak) and Baijayant Panda (Kendrapara). This apart, Bijay Mohapatra, who had resigned from the saffron party, rejoined the BJP, making it further strong in coastal Odisha.

It is observed that the many veterans who had left Naveen’s camp, were finished. But, the difference this time is that all these people are now on one strong platform called BJP. The party has money and men ready with it to face the challenges posed by the mighty BJD. The combination of these coastal leaders will certainly have its impact on the electoral prospect of BJD candidates.  

BJP, which in 2014,  could win only two Assembly seats in coastal Odisha -- one from Remuna in Balasore district and the other from Chilika in Khordha  district --  expects much better results this time. Apart from the above named stalwarts, many BJD grassroots level workers have joined the BJP bandwagon as the saffron party successfully created an impression that it can come to power.

Even if all the former BJD leaders fail, still there is gain for BJP and loss for the regional party in the coastal region, its traditional fort. There should be no doubt that BJP would certainly win more than two Assembly seats from coastal districts this time, due to departure of its prominent leaders.

This apart, the four former BJD veterans could also play a crucial role in Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore Lok Sabha seats. Jay and Bijay’s joining BJP may impact positively for the saffron party in Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat while Raghunath Mohanty and Damodor Rout will have major roles to play in Balasore and Jagatsinghpur Parliamentary constituencies respectively.

All these Lok Sabha seats have been in BJD’s kitty for long. A small hole will certainly break a brick on the BJD’s strong wall. Though Tathagat Satpathy has volunteered not to contest the polls this time, his role is not yet decided. Satpathy’s absence could also affect BJD in Dhenkanal Lok Sabha seat.

Winning more than two Assembly seats and any of the Lok Sabha seats in the coastal region will be considered BJP’s gain and BJD’s loss. The veteran leaders who left BJD have gone with fire in their hearts, waiting for opportunities to hit back. BJP, which has been waiting for an opportunity to settle scores with Naveen since 2009, has provided a solid platform to these leaders.  The
BJD supremo severed ties with BJP ahead of the 2009 polls, making the saffron party rattle under pressure.  

BJP, which has traditionally drawn votes from western Odisha, had won only one Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 general elections and was at the second position in nine other constituencies. BJD had won the remaining 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

In subsequent panchayat elections in 2017, BJP put up a strong show in Odisha, winning 297 of the state's 849 Zilla Parishad seats, and was at the second position behind the ruling BJD in the overall tally. The saffron party’s vote share increased substantially; in BJD's bastion of coastal Odisha, it got nearly 20 per cent of the votes, a party insider informed.

Like in a war, BJP first identified the enemy’s weakness. After listing out its disgruntled leaders of worth, it lured them to join the party. The process continues and Amit Shah could succeed to a certain extent, if he does not succeed in bringing his party to power in the state.

The fact remains that BJP is in the process of making inroads to coastal region, the stronghold of the regional party. Now, BJD has to secure its fort by foiling BJP’s game plan, and at the same time, launching an attack on the saffron party. Time will tell to what extent BJP can damage BJD’s Rock of Gibraltar.

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