Bhubaneswar: Eerie silence reigned over Odisha as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the 2021 Assembly elections in the neighboring West Bengal. As expected, the poll results of Bengal have their impact on Odisha politics, which continued to be under the firm grip of BJD President and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The BJP, which has been making noise all along since the 2019 general elections in Odisha, has undoubtedly suffered a severe setback as it lost Bengal. All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC)’s Supremo Mamata Banerjee has grabbed a landslide victory that silenced the BJP in Bengal and across the country. Had BJP won the polls, the situation in Odisha would have been different. The saffron party failed to reach a three-digit number despite a high decibel campaign and expenditure of crores of rupees in Bengal. Both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s strategies have fallen flat before Mamata’s popularity. Anyway, the BJP has failed in Bengal which has come as a shock to the party’s rank and file in Odisha. Now, they may not fight in the same vigour against Naveen’s alleged 20 years “misrule” in Odisha.
As soon as the results of the Bengal poll started coming, there was joy in the BJD camp while it dampened the spirit of the saffron rank and file in Odisha. A strong message has gone to the people of Odisha that Bengal has rejected BJP. The Bengalis have preferred to remain with the regional outfit and not with a national party, even as the BJP in the 2019 general elections won 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. While BJD President Naveen Patnaik called up Mamata to congratulate her over AITMC’s landslide victory, the party’s senior leader and Vice-president Debi Prasad Mishra claimed that the regional parties across the country are being chosen by the people, not the national parties like BJP or the Congress.
Some days ago, on the party’s foundation day in December 2020, Naveen called upon the people to be aware of the national parties as they allegedly ignored local interests and thrust on their agenda. The state will progress if the stress is given to the regional interest. The BJD President was targeting the BJP’s much-hyped ‘Look East’ Policy which focuses on the eastern states.
BJP’s principal strategist, Amit Shah, has also made it clear that Bengal and Odisha were the focus of the saffron party. Now, the BJP would certainly concentrate on Odisha, although its rank and file are demoralized over the party’s humiliating loss to Mamata Banerjee.
There are also a lot of similarities between Naveen and Mamata. Besides being bachelors and dedicated to the development of Odisha and Bengal, they were part of the NDA during the Vajpayee-Advani era. Moreover, Naveen and Mamata had been Union Ministers and therefore have good knowledge of BJP’s functioning style.
They know the strength and weakness of BJP even as the Modi-Shah combine have not so far got the clue on Naveen and Mamata’s strength. The BJP has attacked both the parties on chit fund scam and local corruption issues. But, while BJP dubbed Naveen’s government as “PC Sarkar” (percentage commission government), it targeted TMC leaders for getting cut from welfare schemes.
Therefore, BJP has to revisit its strategies to face Naveen in the 2024 general elections. It has failed in both states though people in the two eastern states had supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Thanks to the Balakote airstrike before the 2019 elections, which shaped the nation’s mood favouring BJP, the saffron party secured absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.
At the same time, the people have extended their support to the regional parties in the assembly elections, which is evident from the Bengal polls. However, next time around, it may be difficult for the BJP to win an equal number of Lok Sabha seats from Odisha and Bengal in 2024 in the backdrop of a COVID-19 pandemic, price rise and other factors. The people’s anger is also evident from the rural polls recently held in BJP’s fort of Uttar Pradesh.
Though positioned in a good place, the BJD can hardly be overconfident as the Modi-Shah election war machinery is different and targets power without compromising. This apart, the BJD, at the same time, understand that its USP is Naveen Patnaik alone, who is getting older by the day and will reach 77 by the next elections.
Naveen is the ‘Single Man Army’ for the BJD, and he is ageing in the process. Therefore, the BJD must face the challenges in the coming days as managing an election requires money and physical strength to reach the grassroots level.
Holding mega rallies certainly does not influence voters. This has been proved in Bengal. Therefore, ahead of the 2024 elections, the BJP needs a new strategy to face elections in Odisha. The regional BJD is getting stronger by the day, even as its President gets older. Therefore, the BJP needs to evolve a different strategy for Odisha. Unlike Bengal and other states, BJP, next time, must declare its chief ministerial candidate for Odisha. It may be Dharmendra Pradhan, Pratap Sarangi, Baijayanta Panda or Aparajita Sarangi, but the party must put an alternative to the people.
However, the BJP may require the help of regional parties, including BJD, after the 2024 general elections. The saffron party may not repeat its 2019 performance in the backdrop of several issues and the country’s frail economy due to COVID-19 pandemic.
In the coming days, things may be difficult for BJP across the country and Odisha is no exception. This is because BJD has all the advantages. The regional outfit continues to win all by-polls after thumping victory in 2019. And West Bengal results have boosted the morale of grass-root workers of the regional political outfit, feel political analysts