Bhubaneswar: Though BJP stalwart and Prime Minister Narendra Modi earns a state-wide applause for making “Odisha’s Daughter” Droupadi Murmu the NDA’s Presidential candidate, who is all set to occupy Raisina Hills, will the saffron party harvest political benefits for it? The question is debated across the state as BJP’s rank and file sincerely feel that Naveen Patnaik has snatched away the credit from BJP. The general belief is that Droupadi’s candidature has further cemented the relationship between the BJD and the BJP, making them inseparable in the public eye.
However, the political observers feel that it is not Naveen who has stolen the thunder from BJP, rather the saffron party leaders on their own fell into the trap set by the regional party. The BJP leaders including Union Ministers have given certain messages that they are close to Naveen and therefore, BJD is a friend rather than a foe.
The impression further solidified when people across the state witnessed Union Minister Gajendra Singh Sekhawat sharing the dining table with Mr.Patnaik and Ms.Murmu at Naveen Niwas. This came exactly a week after people witnessed Union Minister and BJP’s Odisha face Dharmendra Pradhan sharing the dais and pulling chariots in Puri with Naveen.
To add to the impression that two Union Ministers were close to Naveen, the ‘Odia Daughter’ Droupadi played the role of a sister to the BJD president. While describing herself as “Subhadra”, Droupadi said Naveen was like “Jagannath” brother to her. The brother supported the sister even before the latter sought any help. It is a fact that Droupadi had tied a rakhi on Naveen’s hand when she was a minister in the BJD-BJP alliance government between 2000 and 2009. Her picture of tying rakhi has also been widely circulated among the people.
It is in fact a matter of pride for the people of Odisha that Droupadi was chosen for the topmost post in the country. She will be the first Odia and the first tribal to occupy the highest Constitutional post. From a councillor at Rairangpur NAC, Droupadi has become MLA, Minister, Governor and now is in the process of being installed as the President of India. Certainly it’s a long journey. However, her party, the BJP, which she served for decades, is unlikely to gain any political mileage in Odisha so far Naveen continues as the Chief Minister and the BJD President.
There should be no doubt that the people of Odisha have completely rejected the Congress and offered the state’s principal opposition position to the BJP. The saffron party has been the state’s main opposition since 2019 and doubts are raised whether the saffron group could maintain the credibility of a real opponent. In a span of about three years, the BJP has not gained politically, rather declined its position as an opposition party while Congress has comparatively gained a bit in the three years period.
It is another factor that the Congress has no strength now to emerge from the morass. Therefore, BJP’s status as the opposition will continue, but it has to wait for a long time to come to power in Odisha even as its Hyderabad meeting resolved to put all-out efforts to win the hearts of the people in the state.
However, the hardcore saffron brigade have now started raising questions on whether the BJP will be able to repeat its 2019 performance when senior leaders rub shoulders with Naveen while the ‘Karyakartas’ in grass root level face the brunt. “Why should I invite denial of benefits under several state government schemes by opposing the BJD,” asked a low ranking BJP leader. He said this is not the question of him alone, but the scores of ‘Karyakartas’ who work overtime in villages for the benefit of the BJP.
Taking the prevailing political situation, the BJP has about 30 percent of the vote in absence of the Congress in the electoral field. According to estimation, the BJP should have 54 assembly seats in Odisha, but is content with 22, which is less than half the expected figure.
In 2024 general elections, the BJD would certainly focus on the Lok Sabha seats along with the assembly segments. The reason is obvious that with more MPs, the BJD can keep the BJP under pressure on several occasions. Naveen, since ‘Day One’ in politics, takes elections seriously and therefore, would like to focus more on the 2024 elections as he is heading to a back to back sixth victory.
Under such circumstances and in the face of Naveen’s well-oiled election machinery, can the BJP stop BJD’s victory march? Winning people’s confidence or losing their trust are not overnight affairs or dependent on a single incident. One has to constantly struggle and keep on giving the impression to the voters that they are the real opposition and are not engaged in shadow boxing.
Though BJD had severed its electoral ties with the BJP 13 years ago in 2009, Naveen has once again proved to be a natural ally of the NDA. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s double engine theory appeared to have a different translation in Odisha as Naveen continues to gain from the Centre. The two parties were not always rivals. In 1997, Naveen Patnaik first entered the fray of electoral politics after the demise of his legendary father, Biju Patnaik, and emerged victorious in the by-election of the Aska constituency. A year later, when the Janata Dal was split, Naveen formed his own party and joined the Vajpayee-led BJP government, as Union Minister for Steel and Mines. This marked the political beginning for the new regional party BJD, which continues to rule Odisha until today.
Several instances of Naveen’s support to the Modi government at the centre in turn create drawbacks for the BJP. Had BJP worked on its own after 2009 without seeking the help of Naveen at every turn, things would have been different today. The saffron party leaders for the sake of saving their government at the centre, do often take the help of Naveen and his party.
While Naveen wins despite sacrificing, the BJP loses despite the instant gains. In the BJD-BJP fight, Naveen appears to be the real “Baazigar”, who politically wins by extending support to the BJP and Narendra Modi.