Bhubaneswar: The Governing Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has reasons to be happy as its winning spree continues. The confidence in the party has also surged following the recently concluded by-election in Pipili assembly segment. The regional party headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has retained the Pipili seat six times in a row and the vote share of the party has substantially increased.
On the other hand, despite losing the seat the BJP which has been struggling hard to make its place in Odisha politics, proved that it cannot be ignored, not even by the mighty BJD. It is a fact that the BJP lost the Pipili seat by a margin of about 21,000 votes; but the truth remains that the saffron party gave a befitting fight to the ruling dispensation. The BJP candidate Ashrit Pattnaik, who graduated from the post of Panchayat Samiti Member, has now emerged as an alternative in Pipili.
The winning candidate Rudra Pratap Maharathy and the entire BJD team including some dozens of MLAs and Ministers had to put their best efforts to retain the seat. The BJP’s penetration in all the 348 booths was quite strong. After 26 rounds of votes counted besides postal ballots, the margin was 20,916 votes. This clearly indicated that the BJP has made its presence felt across the constituency and not in isolated pockets.
Interestingly, the BJP achieved this feat in Pipili despite not putting its entire efforts. The BJD has done everything to win the polls except Naveen Patnaik’s campaigning either in physical or virtual mode. The BJP top leadership has also not given its time in Pipili. While Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi and Balasore MP Pratap Sarangi spent half-a-day in Pipili, two other Union Ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Bisweswar Tudu, did not turn up for campaigning even as their names were there in the list of ‘Star Campaigners’. BJP State President Samir Mohanty was seen campaigning along with party’s National Spokesperson Sambit Patra.
Then, what actually fetched 76,056 votes for the BJP candidates? It can be safely concluded that the party’s grass root level workers were fully charged and who could bring such a huge number of people, say 42.04 per cent of the voters to the polling stations. The BJP workers have worked very hard even without the proper encouragement of the state or national leadership. If this spirit is seen in all the constituencies, then one would not be surprised if the BJP makes news in the ensuing panchayat, urban polls in 2022 and 2023 and finally in the general elections for the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly. Though the BJD succeeded in by-polls due to its clinical precision and effective micro-management of the elections, the regional party had to face a tough time. The ruling party was expecting a winning margin of about 50,000 in the polls.
Another factor that has come to the fore is violence free by-elections in Pipili and Delang areas which have a history of turbulence. There were only three complaints of violation of model code of conduct and four cases on violation of the COVID-19 guidelines. There was almost peace and tranquility in Pipili and the credit goes to the new generation of leaders of both the parties, who preferred to fight the elections in a democratic manner instead of depending on the violence.
BJP’s senior leaders, particularly the Union Ministers’ no-show at Pipili has also generated a different angle in the state politics. Is it deliberate and a planned one to keep Naveen happy? The political analysts are still unsure over the BJP’s half-hearted efforts in Pipili. Whatever the saffron party has achieved in Pipili by-poll was only due to Ashrit Pattnaik and Brahmagiri MLA Lalitendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra and to some extent Dharmendra Pradhan. The major contribution was made by the saffron brigade which worked with full dedication to ensure victory of Ashrit Pattaik despite not getting required support from the state and national leadership. ‘Salute Saffron Brigade’ in Pipili, the BJP workers across the state now chant.
The BJP candidate has lost the by-poll in Pipili, but the saffron brigade has emerged as the ‘winner’, the one who wins hearts despite defeat. This has never been witnessed for more than 12 years, since the BJD and the BJP severed their decade-old alliance. Though the BJP workers have struggled to match the BJD candidates, they have utterly failed all the time. Even the party failed to achieve the feat (what the Pipili workers did) when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at height of popularity in 2014 and also in 2019 general elections.
The BJP, in fact, gave an indication of its hidden potential in Odisha during the 2017 three-tier panchayat elections when it won around 300 out of the 854 Zilla Parishad seats in the state. However, the saffron party subsequently failed before the high energy electoral machines of Naveen Patnaik in 2019 general elections for the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly.
After the 2019 victory, the BJD was on top of the politics which in fact demoralized the saffron brigade as both the Modi-Shah duo considered Naveen as invincible. Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi, had, however, proved in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Bhubaneswar that the BJD can be defeated with hard work. And this spirit of Aparajita was seen among the saffron workers of BJP in Pipili this time.
As BJP National leadership quite often runs to Naveen for help in all the complicated situations, be it demonetization or CAA or removal of 370 from J&K and election of Ashwini Vaishnaw to Rajya Sabha, a general impression has gone down that the BJP cannot defeat the BJD. Therefore, the saffron top leadership prefers to compromise with Naveen.
The BJP leadership also believes that it is Naveen Patnaik alone who will come to their rescue in future if the party fails to form a government on its own after the 2024 elections. Therefore, crossing swords with Naveen was not wise, the political pundits opine. Anyway, the Pipili results have now proved that the BJD can no more ignore the BJP, at least in Odisha. The regional party has to work very hard if it sincerely wants to continue its government in the state for more years as the ‘Saffron Brigade’ is upbeat to fight it out.