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Call On Prez Poll

Bhubaneswar: The hottest topic being discussed in the political circle now is whether the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, after inflicting severe blows to opposition BJP and Congress in the recently concluded rural and urban polls in Odisha, will be successful in bailing out the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo in the next Presidential election.

While the BJD leaders are clueless about Naveen’s next course of action in the Presidential election, the BJP is optimistic that the Modi-Shah duo will convince the Odisha Chief Minister by its strategic move this time too. In 2019, Naveen was won over by the saffron duo and ensured election of Ashiwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha elections. However, the BJD leaders were frustrated when Railway Minister Mr.Vaishnaw announced scrapping of the wagon factory project at Sitapali in Ganjam district, the home turf of Naveen Patnaik.

Mr.Vaishnaw, however, later won the hearts of the people of Odisha when the NDA government allocated huge funds for the development of the railway infrastructure in the State. Political analysts pointed out that after a heavy exchange of words during the 2019 General Elections, the BJD and the BJP closed their ranks at the national level while the saffron brigade continued to fight on streets with the BJD. Before the rural and urban polls, the BJD again played the ‘central negligence’ card and tried to project that the regional party was not hand in gloves with the BJP. Both the parties also fought in the twin elections for the rural and urban polls as arch rivals.

As the presidential election comes at a time when the BJP is not in a good shape in both the elections in Odisha, the BJD insiders are clueless about Naveen’s stand in the ensuing presidential election which is scheduled in July, 2022. While backing the NDA candidate Ramnath Kovind in the presidential elections in 2017, Naveen had clarified that his party supported the NDA candidate as the saffron party had supported its candidate PA Sangma in the previous presidential election. The people in Odisha were given an impression that the BJD voted for the BJP candidate to repay its political debt. 

Following the recent Assembly elections in five states viz. Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab, the BJP-led NDA sustained low vote share and therefore, require external support to ensure victory of its presidential candidate. The NDA government, according to estimation, faces a shortage of 1.2 percent of support which stood at 13,000 votes.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had won 312 seats in 2017 Assembly elections. The saffron party had also got support of 12 MLAs of Apna Dal. However, in the 2022 elections, the BJP could manage to secure 255 seats only. It has the support of another six MLAs of Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal (NISHAD) too. Similarly, the BJP’s seats in Uttarakhand also came down to 47 from 56.

Therefore, the BJP needs support from others including the BJD, which has about 3 percent of votes in the presidential election. The regional party has 113 Assembly seats and 12 Lok Sabha seats, which could play a key role in the ensuing presidential election.  Apart from BJD, YSR Congress (YSRC) has about 2 per cent votes in the presidential election.

The Modi-Shah duo will certainly like to gain support of both the BJD and the YSRC in order to secure its victory in the presidential poll. The tenure of President Ram Nath Kovind ends on July 24.

Meanwhile, TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while addressing the State Legislative Assembly recently has said that the upcoming Presidential election would not be a cakewalk for the BJP despite its recent victory in the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur.

Noting that the Presidential election will take place soon, Banerjee said that the NDA cannot sail through without support of non-saffron parties. “Regional forces, such as the Samajwadi Party, may have been defeated but they are stronger now,” said Banerjee, implying that her ally in Uttar Pradesh controls 111 of the state’s 403 seats, 64 more than its strength in the previous polls.

BJP insiders say that Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu is the frontrunner for the top post, though the BJP leadership is yet to take a call on the Presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties have been trying to put up a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential poll; but it will be difficult for the Congress to take the lead keeping in view its poorest performance in the recent Assembly elections. Regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, MK Stalin’s DMK, Uddhav Thackre’s Shiv Sena, and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS are expected to play a key role in deciding whether to put up a joint opposition candidate.

In such a scenario, Naveen Patnaik is reportedly weighing pros and cons on whether to go with the rest of India or the ruling BJP. The BJP on the other hand continues to woo Naveen at the national level. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking on mineral reforms in the Rajya Sabha, did not hesitate to praise Naveen even as his party was fighting with the BJD in the rural elections last month. Mr.Modi’s intentions were clear as he knew very well that the NDA might not make it alone in the Presidential election.

Keeping in view BJD’s open disagreement with NDA on price rise including fuel and relentless accusations of central negligence, it may not be easy for Naveen to take a clear decision at this stage. This is because Naveen’s decision on BJD’s role in the upcoming presidential poll will have its impact in the 2024 general elections. However, the BJP national leadership is very much counting on BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik considering his past record of timely support to the NDA Government at the Centre.