Bhubaneswar: Around eight months ago when an influential group in the Odisha BJP was desperately trying to retain Samir Mohanty as the party’s state unit President, a veteran saffron leader predicted that changes are certain, but it comes in a delayed stage in the party. And his prediction has come true when BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda announced the name of Saffron Veteran Manmohan Samal from the coastal belt as the president of the Odisha unit. Earlier, the party had named party stalwart Jaynarayan Mishra from western region as the Leader of BJP Legislature Party.
Now, the state’s principal opposition party, the BJP is all set for a fight against the mighty BJD headed by Naveen Patnaik. Both Manmohan Samal and Jaynarayan Mishra at the helm they have been Ministers in the Naveen Patnaik Cabinet when the BJD-BJP alliance was in force between 2000 and 2009. More so, Manmohan was then the BJP’s state party President when the BJP entered into the coalition Government with the BJD in Odisha.
For being part of the BJD-BJP coalition government which eventually collapsed ahead of the 2009 general elections, both the leaders carry fire within themselves for remaining out of power for over a decade and the party being dropped like a hot potato by Naveen Patnaik. Both of them claim that it was BJP under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000 which virtually installed the Naveen Patnaik Government in the backdrop of legendary leader Biju Patnaik’s demise in 1997. The BJP sacrificed its own interest and ensured that Naveen became Chief Minister of Odisha as he enjoyed the sympathy of people.
However, the experience of BJP leaders in Odisha remained very bitter when the alliance broke and 60 per cent of the state’s 147 seats were in hands of BJD. BJP was totally unprepared to go to elections alone in 2009 and therefore sustained a major defeat in the elections and the trend continued even today. Thanks to Congress that it remained engaged in fighting in the party giving a little chance to grow and the saffron party could become the main opposition party in the state.
In 2019 general elections, BJP performed very well and secured 23 Assembly and 8 Lok Sabha seats while the then main opposition- the Congress, finished with only 9 seats in assembly and 1 seat in Lok Sabha. However, the BJD continued its victory journey by winning in 113 assembly seats and 12 Lok sabha seats.
Later in 2022, the BJD also extended its winning spree and could capture 80 per cent of seats in three tier Panchayati Raj system and also in the urban local body elections. The BJP lost the game, but remained in a better position than the Congress. Its vote share more or less remained the same though the party lost in most of the rural and urban polls.
Though BJP was considered small in comparison to the mighty BJD which had over 1 crore primary members (of the state’s 3.29 crore voters), still the party secured around 40 per cent of vote share. Even as the BJP won in only 23 assembly seats, its candidates lost in 27 other seats with a margin of less than 2,000 votes. Similarly, the difference between the number of votes between the BJD and BJP in the Lok Sabha elections was also small. The BJD got around 1.20 crore votes in LS polls, while the BJP as the runners up could get around 93 lakh votes. The difference was not much for which the Man-Jay combination has expressed confidence to form a government in Odisha after the 2024 elections.
Immediately after his name was announced as the party President, Manmohan said: “We have already emerged as the alternative to BJD in Odisha. It is a matter of time and the 2024 elections are only a formality for change of government in the state. The people have already made up their mind to install a BJP Government.”
Manmohan, who is considered as a cool and composed type leader in Odisha politics, rarely expresses such type of confidence. But, this time, he claimed that he is sure that the people would end a 24 year old government which has been hit by corruption, nepotism and also lawlessness.
However, a senior BJD Vice-President said that changing the President of a political party does not mean a change of the existing government. Leaders come and go, but the people decide the fate of parties. It is also a fact that Manmohan does not have a charisma like Naveen Patnaik. He is certainly a small leader if one compares with Odisha’s five time Chief Minister and tallest of all the leaders, Naveen Patnaik.
Manmohan may not be a crowd puller, but certainly is a team leader. Under the changed situation, BJP needs a team leader to strengthen its grass-root level and Manmohan is the most suitable person available to the BJP.
The BJP central leadership put faith in him because of his unique character like walking with the people. An old timer associated with Manmohan recalled how this saffron leader during his childhood used to pedal long distances while two of his friends were seated in the bi-cycle.
He also does not eat alone and prefers to take his lunch and dinner in groups. His basic character of taking people along with will certainly help him to take all groups within the party to elections and hit the goal. He is basically a team man and a team leader. He will be acceptable to all the groups within the party besides being a blue eyed boy of Sangh Parivar, to which he has served as a Swayam Sevak and also as an ABVP leader since student days. RSS has soft corner for Man Mohan.
On the other hand, LoP Jaynarayan Mishra is considered as a firebrand leader who has a solid mass base in the entire Western Odisha. His non-compromising and fighting spirit has put the ruling BJD in trouble in the ongoing Assembly session and he has been gaining acceptance in the party’s rank and file. While Jaynarayan can manage things in Western districts, Manmohan is also considered capable of managing things in the politically sensitive Coastal belt, which is considered as a fort of Naveen Patnaik and his BJD.
Now, everybody in the saffron outfit pin hopes on Manmohan and Jaynarayan (Man Jay) while other influential groups were systematically made to understand that the BJD was their enemy and not anyone within the party. Time will tell whether this Man Jay combination could change the 24 year old political situation in the state. So all eyes are on Man Jay.