Bhubaneswar: Nobody actually knows whether the general elections for the ensuing Lok Sabha and Odisha Legislative Assembly will be held in 2023 instead of its original schedule of 2024. However, the stage is already set and the captains of both the warring parties have already blown the poll bugles. There should be no doubt that 2023 will be a year of rancorous face-offs ahead of the next elections.
While Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik launched a scathing attack on national parties, read Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the regional party’s silver jubilee celebration in Puri, the saffron party chief Jagat Prakash Nadda started his election campaign from VHP leader late Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s place at Tumudibandh in Kandhamal district. Nadda also made a similar attack on the BJD from Banapur, the place of reigning deity Maa Bhagabati.
Both the party captains preferred to launch election campaigns from religious places. While there is no requirement to explain the spiritual sentiments attached to Lord Jagannath’s abode at Puri, Nadda chose the workplace of Laxmanananda, a hardcore Hindu leader whose killing led to a widespread communal riot in Kandhamal in 2008. The BJP’s intention of invoking the Hindu sentiment is clearly visible.
This is not all, the parties have also come out with different strategies. While Naveen has announced that his BJD came to power for five consecutive times in a row due to the blessings of women, he was optimistic that the women will continue to bless his party. Apart from calling people from different walks of life to join the regional party, Naveen gave an open invitation to women to take leadership. Thus women, who constitute around 48 percent of the state’s 3.290 crore voters, are in focus of Naveen’s party in the ensuing elections. The state government has already opened up its coffers by announcing several measures for the self help group members under Mission Shakti.
In the process of empowering women, Naveen had already nominated 30 per cent of women in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and he is likely to repeat it in the ensuing elections. In the initial days of BJD, the women were made the vote bank through WSHGs, then he fielded women in elections. Now, the Chief Minister is ready to give the leadership to women. It is, however, another matter, whether the state will get a woman Chief Minister after Nandini Satpathy. Naveen, as it appeared, would not hesitate to hand over the baton to a suitable woman in the coming days. The party insiders have started whispering on the matter albeit no one dared to broach the matter.
On the other hand, rival BJP, which is bracing to give BJD a fight in the next elections, framed a strategy that focussed on farmers, who constitute 70 per cent of the voters. Beginning its pro-farmer protests from Padampur by-election, the BJP has launched ‘Satyagraha”, dharna, rallies, block office gheraos over farm issues and has attempted to champion the agrarian causes.
BJP is likely to announce its CM candidate and a new state President to spearhead the poll campaign. Dharmendra Pradhan is the face of Odisha BJP. BJP high command is likely to hand over the campaign baton to him, insiders feel. Pradhan has been in the Union Ministry for seven years and therefore given much importance in the Modi government. Now the party expects rich returns from his political elevation and maturity. The new President is likely to be picked up from coastal zones. With Dhamnagar win, Man Mohan Samal’s name is being discussed as the new state saffron chief.
The focus areas of BJD and the BJP are now clear. While the women will be the trump card of the regional party, the saffron outfit will harp on the farmers. There should be no doubt that the next elections will be BJD vs BJP as the Congress in Odisha has been fading from the political arena. The oldest party which ruled over the state for decades is in a derelict state. The Congress candidates lost their security deposits in both the by-polls held in Padampur and Dhamnagar though it secured third place in Brajrajnagar by-poll. Keeping in view the present situation, the Congress may not give a fight to either the BJD or the BJP, but it may become a deciding factor in many assembly segments as it did in Padampur by-poll. The entire Congress votes appeared to have been shifted to BJD leading to Barsha Singh Bariha’s victory by over 40,000 votes. In elections, permutations and combinations matter. The Congress may play the role of a kingmaker in many constituencies though its own position seems to be dwindling.
Before preparing for the next elections, Naveen has already overhauled his Council of Ministers in June, 2022 and speculations are rife that he may also go for another reshuffle before the general elections. He is likely to replace the controversial and ‘non-performing’ ministers. In the previous reshuffle, Naveen retained nine of the 20 ministers. Of the remaining 12 in the reconstituted council of ministers, five were former ministers and seven were new faces. At first, five women joined the ministry while western Odisha gained prominence with seven ministers.
As BJD has already won in both the local elections – panchayat polls and urban polls, the party expects similar performance in the coming elections even as BJP has meanwhile taken a different view and accelerated its machinery. However, the ruling BJD has a unique problem and the party faces rebels in almost all constituencies. Naveen has to strike a balance between the fractions in the party and while pushing his women empowerment agenda. The BJP is in a better position in many cases. On the other hand, Congress may find it difficult to get suitable candidates for all the 147 constituencies.
As 2023 rings in, the political heat keeps on rising. Both the BJD and BJP are ready for the fight, even in the streets. Time will tell who wins the show and who wins polls. Padampur by-poll showed that BJP wins in terms of gathering of people in public meetings, but not polls. This year is going to be a politically hot year.