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Eyes On Lok Sabha Seats

Bhubaneswar: With the 2024 General Elections nearly two years away, hectic political activities have started in the State. Though nobody is certain about early polling in the country, Odisha’s three major political parties, BJD, Congress and BJP, have already started campaigning. The parties have also set their eyes on General Elections for both the Lok Sabha and Odisha Legislative Assembly.

While Congress, struggling to make its existence felt, has set a target to win more seats in Odisha Assembly, both the BJD and BJP remain focused on the Lok Sabha seats. The BJD Supremo Naveen Patnaik has this time set a target to win all the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state in order to make the regional party more viable in the national politics and ensure better bargaining power vis-à-vis the Central Government.

The BJP, which won 8 of Odisha’s 21 Parliamentary seats, desperately needs more Lok Sabha seats from Odisha this time as its alliance partners like Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have broken up with the NDA. There is also no guarantee that the BJP will repeat the performance of the 2019 elections in the wake of the spiral price rise of essential items across the country, huge unemployment and Congress gaining some ground in some BJP ruled states.

Recently, the BJP has appointed Sunil Bansal as party in-charge of Odisha, West Bengal and Telangana, which are mostly virgin states for the saffron outfit. In these states, the BJP has not been able to form a government though it secured some Lok Sabha seats. The BJP central leaders pin their hope in Mr.Bansal, who has been highly successful in Uttar Pradesh, where regional parties had much more significance than the Congress or the BJP. They feel Bansal’s magic might work in these states, together having 80 Lok Sabha seats, equal to Uttar Pradesh.

Odisha has 21 Lok Sabha seats, West Bengal 42 and Telangana 17 Lok Sabha seats. Of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the three states, BJP could capture only 30 seats. As 50 seats have gone to regional parties, the BJP hopes that it could fetch more seats in these parts of the country.

BJP’s target of getting more Lok Sabha seats from Odisha became evident when Mr.Bansal after his visit here rushed seven Union Ministers to the coastal area. The seven Union Ministers have fanned to 12 different Lok Sabha segments where the BJP have failed to win. While Mr.Bansal has asked the sitting MPs and MLAs not to spare any efforts to retain their seats, the party has launched an operation to wrest more seats. “Apart from reviewing the official schemes, we will also meet the party workers who come to welcome us,” said Minister of State for Home, Nityananda Rai after his arrival here on Friday.

Though the BJP central leadership has been eyeing the Lok Sabha seats in Odisha, Union Home Minister and BJP’s principal strategist, Amit Shah, during his visit in August infused confidence in the party rank and file by saying that the saffron party will also form government in the state as it did in other non-Hindi speaking states.

However, sources said that the BJP central leadership would not like to antagonize Naveen Patnaik by trying to get more Assembly seats. In view of the cordial relationship with Naveen, the political analysts do not deny BJP exploring a deal with BJD. The BJP, if it realizes that its strength has solidified at the booth level, may put pressure on the BJD to help saffron candidates win Lok Sabha seats. “Everything is possible in politics and it is more possible as the BJD could gift a Rajya Sabha seat to BJP in 2019,” pointed out a political analyst.

However, the Naveen’s party this time has been preparing for a major show with at least one crore people as its members against the total electorates of 3.26 crore. The BJD is confident to get at least one crore votes, but the party has now raised its expectations and targets 1.5 crore votes in 2024 elections. The BJD in 2019 elections had secured 1.05 crore votes which increased to 1.20 crore in 2022 panchayat polls. Therefore, achieving the target of 1.5 crore vote is not at all difficult for BJD keeping in view the state government’s populist schemes and Naveen’s popularity. This apart, the price rise issue may help BJD more than the Congress.

The Congress on the other hand, has been trying its luck with Sarat Pattnayak as the new OPCC President. The party has only nine Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha MP. Pattnayak has set a target to make Congress’s figure to 90 from 9 MLAs. The party has been banking on the demerits of both the BJD and the BJP, but Mr.Pattnayak has a problem on how to fight polls as many of its soldiers have already joined either the BJD or the BJP. Sarat Pattnayak certainly does not have a magic wand to ensure 90 seats for Congress. The oldest party in the country has been facing the problems of man, money and media.

As time advances all the three parties are accelerating their preparations. It is often said that Naveen always remains ahead of his rivals when it comes to elections. This time round, the BJP is also running at the same speed or even faster in the run up to the elections.

Mr.Bansal seems to be different from all previous in-charges of Odisha. He has both the money and mind to take the party ahead, but lacks the dedicated manpower that Naveen has along with resources and media. BJD over two decades of rule has set up its own strategy to fight out national parties.

However, Naveen’s silence on BJP governance, price rise issue and dropping central negligence from its slogans, may also eat into the regional party’s vote bank. This may send a wrong message to the voters that Naveen Patnaik and Narendra Modi have “One Agenda” as alleged by Congress. There is enough time for BJD to amend some of its policies on BJP ahead of elections.