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BJD Needs New Strategy

Bhubaneswar: Can BJD Supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik take advantage from the BJD’s defeat in Dhamnagar? While political analysts indicate growth of BJP in the state, the real reason is something else. BJD’s ‘problem of plenty’ is behind its first defeat after winning all the by-polls since 2009.

The Dhamnagar assembly by-poll result is certainly an eye opener for the BJD. If the allegation of some Congress leaders is to be believed, then a section of businessmen and disgruntled party leaders funded the BJD’s rebel candidate Rajendra Das, who secured over 8,000 votes leading to defeat of the regional party’s official candidate.  A section of the BJD leaders allegedly supported Rajendra Das in secret as they wanted to give a break to some coastal leaders who rose to great heights in the last three and half years.  

Anyway, Raju Das turning rebel and the party losing in Dhamnagar has given a costly lesson to the BJD. At least one thing must be clear: overconfidence kills even a well-organized election machine. The BJD leaders were highly ambitious and confident of winning the by-poll in Dhamnagar. Even senior leader and Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Pramila Mallick, who extensively campaigned for the BJD candidate in Dhamnagar, had claimed that Abanti Das would win the election by over 20,000 votes. But, the BJD candidate lost the by-poll by 9,881 votes, which is more than double of the BJP candidate’s victory margin of 4,625 votes in 2019 elections. This clearly indicated that the BJD leadership managing the elections at Dhamnagar was overconfident of its victory.

As a seasoned and experienced election winner, the BJD should have engaged a third party to assess its electoral prospects in any assembly segment instead of believing the report of the leaders engaged in campaigning. Had there been any mechanism to assess the voters’ mood independently, the BJD highest leadership would not have to worry over the poll results.

It may be mentioned that the BJD had also faced a similar situation in 2017 rural elections where it lost many seats to rival BJP. The BJP in fact made its entry into the Odisha’s countryside through the 2017 panchayat polls for which the saffron party won eight Lok Sabha seats and also 23 assembly segments. Then immediately after the 2017 panchayat polls, BJD Supremo took several corrective measures and salvaged the situation for which the party could easily win the 2019 elections. The party was not affected much while the Congress became a major victim to the BJP’s growth. However, BJP winning 8 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 compared to just one in 2014, was certainly a setback for the BJD. Naveen’s corrective measures could save the BJD’s assembly seats, but failed to retain more Lok Sabha seats and, ofcourse, Narendra Modi wave was blowing strongly at that point of time.

Though the party candidate lost the by-poll at Dhamnagar, it has become an opportunity for the BJD. It has clearly indicated that the policy and strategy adopted so far needs a relook. As a seasoned politician who hates to face defeat in elections, Naveen is likely to take corrective steps to make preparation for the 2024 elections. He is the only leader in Odisha, who has all along gained strength from disadvantageous situations.

Now, Naveen must identify the problems in his party first and not try to find that in people or the opposition. While the growth of rebel elements is one of the major problems in the party, Naveen must put the right persons in the right place while going to polls. Instead of totally depending on a particular section of leaders in the party, he must choose the right person and ensure balancing the leaders. Presently, an impression has been created in the party that particular leaders are getting importance while others are neglected. And some of the neglected leaders, though remain silent, help the rebels though they have no intention to hurt Naveen.  Some anti-party activities are committed by some leaders which are aimed at influential groups and not Naveen Patnaik, insiders point out.

There should be no doubt in Odisha politics that Naveen Patnaik is the tallest of all leaders in the state and there is no alternative to him. He is at the height of popularity which is beyond the imagination of others. His ‘womenfolk’ vote bank regards BJD Supremo as a ‘Messiah’. No other leader can boast of such charisma. However, the regional outfit requires to revisit its policy of choosing candidates and consider the ‘Winning Prospect’ as a criterion and most importantly, ensure that the ‘Raju Factor’ is not repeated.

There should be no doubt that the governing BJD has been facing the problem of plenty. And this problem is obvious when the party becomes too big to handle. Of the 3.29 crore votes, one third are members of the BJD and therefore the size of its leaders in every constituency is also bigger than other parties. Remaining in power for over twodecades has also become a liability for the party as many of its constituency leaders have also become rich through different business activities including contract work.

Since the government remained in power for a long time, almost all the businessmen are now BJD leaders and after getting rich, all want to get a pie of power. The number twos and number threes in every constituency vie for party tickets and aspire to become MLAs.

One must not forget the defeat of Janata Dal in 1995 when Biju Patnaik was at the height of popularity. Then the Congress won the elections not because of JB Patnaik’s popularity, but for the internal squabble in Biju’s party. Then Biju Babu had depended on a handful of leaders which resulted in defeat of the Janata Dal. A similar situation has arisen in the BJD today and it is needed to be handled carefully before the 2024 elections. As Naveen Patnaik is considered smart and intelligent enough to understand the situation, he may take advantage from Dhamnagar defeat, feel party insiders. In fact, the governing BJD requires a new strategy for the 2024 General Elections.