Bhubaneswar: In the battle of supremacy over rural Odisha through the ongoing three–tier panchayat elections, a new phenomenon is visible which may irritate the country’s saffron leaders. During the battle of Titans BJD and BJP, the country’s age old party, the Congress, is winning sympathy in many constituencies. The Congress will not win many seats but the party headed by Sonia Gandhi still evokes warm affinity among the villagers. Many people have a feeling for the Congress, but they are frustrated that no one from the party seeks their votes. People may not see any future in the party, but many cherish the return of the ‘hand symbol’ when it is gradually fading from the memory of the voters.
As Naveen continues to rule over the state for over two decades, younger voters have almost forgotten the Congress and its governance style. The country’s oldest party has nothing to offer the young men and women. They have started forgetting the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and so also Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
Despite Mr.Modi’s Congress Mukt Bharat call and Naveen’s description of the party as the ‘ocean of corruption’, people have fond remembrances of Congress. The Congress still lives in the village, the indication of which is evident during the 2022 panchayat polls in Odisha. Though the Congress has fielded candidates in more than 800 seats for the Zilla Parishad Members, many of them have been given party tickets for having the ability to spend money in the elections. Senior leaders are shy to join the campaign.
Even the OPCC President Niranjan Patnaik preferred to be away from campaigning. The Congress candidates were virtually starving for funds and fail to impress voters. “We have no money, muscle or media with us. The Congress candidates are in the fray with their own strength,” pointed out senior Congress lawmaker Suresh Kumar Routray. Many of the Congress candidates are in the fray with borrowed money while BJD and BJP nominees get it on a platter.
Mr.Routray said the people are treated with mutton, chicken and other tempting items while Congress candidates are unable to go beyond “rice and lentil”. Despite having lakhs of sympathisers in the villages of Odisha, Congress lacks logistics support to turn sympathy into votes. Factors like lack of proper leadership, infighting in the party and unwillingness of senior leaders to spend resources have ruined the Congress in Odisha, opined political observers.
People are somewhat sympathetic towards Congress because of their frustration with the working style of BJP and BJD. The BJP’s inroads to rural Odisha during 2017 Panchayat Polls gives sufficient indication that the people want alternatives to the two decade long BJD Governance. Since the Congress has already gone to oblivion, the BJP filled the gap and secured 297 of the Zilla Parishad seats in 2017 elections which later helped the saffron party to win 14 Assembly and 8 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 elections. Current panchayat elections are considered as the semi-final for the 2024 general elections for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
Both the BJD and the BJP have meanwhile realised the ground reality and therefore, have resolved to capture the trust of the people in villages while Congress has turned out to be a silent spectator for many reasons. The Congress, which has been out of power since 2000 after ruling Odisha for decades, must keep it in mind that the people will never vote the party as the Congress leaders used to grossly neglect the rural zones; they have to wait for many years for returning to power in the state.
The BJP, which dreams to rule the state, also must keep in mind that Naveen’s BJD is deeply rooted in villages via its many welfare schemes and therefore it is difficult for Saffron Brigade to overpower the regional behemoth. The saffron party must know that getting elected to Assembly or Lok Sabha hinges on several factors. The factor one is anti-incumbency and misrule, number two is unpopularity of the leader of the ruling dispensation.
In both the cases Naveen is strong and his popularity is soaring continually even as some of his party colleagues have brought bad names for the Government. However, keeping Naveen’s image in view, the people vote for BJD with expectation that the Chief Minister will not spare any one indulged in anti-people activities. When people realise that the black moles are being shielded and not punished as was the case some years ago, they may not hesitate to dump the BJD.
This is high time for the BJP to prove its worth. However, the manner in which the saffron party is managing the panchayat elections, it does not indicate that it is serious about winning the people’s confidence. The State BJP leadership is not visible in rural zones; however some of the leaders in their respective areas are more than active to retain their folks together. A few like Union Minister Bisheswar Tudu, former Union Ministers Jual Oram and Pratap Sarangi, have been working day in and day out to keep the party primed to take on BJD at the ground level. However, their activities are confined to specific constituencies.
While Mr.Tudu’s activities are confined to Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat, Sarangi and Oram also work for their constituencies like Balasore and Sundergarh respectively. There seems to be a lack of pan-Odisha approach of BJP. Nobody knows whether BJP can retain its 2017 tally even as BJP State President Samir Mohanty claimed that they will certainly perform better than the 2017 results.
BJD leadership on the other hand, has turned out to be a hard task master by asking its local representatives starting from Sarpanches to MPs to ensure victory or lose the party position and even power also. For their self-preservation BJD’s 114 MLAs, 12 MPs have put their entire efforts to retain their forts. Naveen may not hesitate to punish the non-performers after elections.
Anyway, while the fight for supremacy in rural zones is going on the rural polls will certainly give a clear message in the state as to which party is going to rule Odisha after 2024 General Elections!