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Saffron Connect Missing

Bhubaneswar: When BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda named Sunil Bansal as the central party’s representative and Odisha in-charge in August 2022, there was lot of enthusiasm among the saffron rank and file. Everybody in the Odisha BJP and also in the saffron outfit was upbeat as Shri Bansal was instrumental behind ushering in BJP for the second time in Uttar Pradesh. He was projected as a saviour of BJP in Odisha.

The enthusiasm has fizzled out. Now, the workers do not take the name of Odisha-In-Charge with gusto, and so far, his contribution has remained confined to attending meetings. No one still claims that Shri Bansal’s strategy would bring in big changes to BJP in Odisha.

It was also said that both Sunil Bansal and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had put in their best efforts in Uttar Pradesh ensuring the success of Yogi Adityananth despite the strong farmers’ agitation in the northern state. The same Bansal-Pradhan pair is also involved in Odisha and both are striving for the upliftment of BJP in the state. However, there is no perceptible change in the party position.

The BJP already had at least 40% vote share in the state and it was the responsibility of the state and the central leadership to raise the share. It is another factor that there is no decline in the vote share of BJP even though it lost elections one after another with the exception of the Dhamnagar by-poll where the party successfully exploited the sympathy wave.

In Padampur, BJP had fielded an able and popular candidate, but he lost. This was the only by-poll in the state where at least four Union Ministers like Narendra Singh Tomar, Ashiwini Vaishnaw, Dharmendra Pradhan and Bishweswar Tudu besides all the 8 MPs and 21 MLAs campaigned for the BJP nominee, Pradip Purohit. It was the popularity of Purohit that ensured that BJP’s vote share remained intact. The extensive campaign by Union Ministers, MPs and MLAs had an impact even though they failed to motivate the people in favour of BJP.

Since the BJP already has about 40% votes, it may be claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is popular among the people of Odisha. And it is also a fact that under no circumstances Shri Modi can work for the BJP in the state exclusively. The leaders like Sunil Bansal, D Purandeswari, Dharmendra Pradhan, Samir Mohanty, Jaynarayan Mishra, its MPs, MLAs and office bearers have responsibilities to help BJP to capture more votes which has not been possible so far.

Political analysts have already categorically said that BJP’s All India strategy would not work in the land of Naveen Patnaik where he is deeply rooted with people. The BJP is fighting against a regional party which has over one crore members while the number of voters in the state remained at 3.29 crore. Naveen, on the other hand, is growing stronger day by day. The BJD Supremo connects with people in a big way, which is missing with BJP and Congress.

Naveen has a specific strategy based on which he has overcome all the anti-incumbency factors and has returned to power at least five times in a row so far. Naveen changes his party’s candidates every successive election based on the popularity of MLAs. If people are angry over some MLAs, the BJD Chief takes no time to dump him or her. In the process, he assuages public anger and his Government forms a government in the state.

Despite being aware of all the merits and demerits of the Governing BJD, the BJP has not been able to think up any specific strategy to capture power in Odisha, feel political observers. As earlier, the BJP spokespersons chide Naveen and his government on a daily basis, a ploy that has been rejected by the people earlier.

The basic strength of any political party lies in villages and at the booth level. Though, BJP’s Master Strategist, Amit Shah, gave a clarion call to the party’s rank and file to strengthen the booths, nobody has bothered to work seriously on it. Every saffron leader is interested in appearing on television news channels instead of hitting the dust in the nook and corner of the state. It has almost become a fashion in the saffron party to appear on television. Naveen Patnaik is only seen on TV while attending some meetings while Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, considered as the face of BJP in Odisha, appears to be fond of being in limelight for any reason.

In BJP, everybody also wants to be a leader as the central party has not yet named or projected any one as its head in the state. BJP’s 8 MPs do not sit together and so also the MLAs. There seems to be a lack of coordination among the elected people’s representatives.

While Samir Mohanty and his spokespersons address press meets in the party’s state headquarters, MP Aparajita Sarangi and Leader of Opposition Jaynarayan Mishra prefer to have their own set of journalists and meet them at their respective residences. Suresh Pujari, Pratap Sarangi, Bishweswar Tudu, Jual  Oram and other senior leaders prefer to work in their own style instead of having any common goal.

The BJP MPs elected from Odisha, are also worried that they were not heard by the central leadership before the Union Budget. Though some of them tried to push some projects in their constituencies, the centre quietly ignored them. Of the eight MPs elected in 2019 general elections, many fear that they may not be able to face the people as their performance in the constituencies have not been remarkable. There is apparently no difference between the BJD and BJP MPs. As members of the ruling party, the BJP MPs could not get any priority in the central government, pointed out a political observer.

When the elections are just one year away, can the BJP raise its vote share and at least retain its position in the Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies? Due to lack of a proper strategy in the state and with little importance to individual MPs, it seems the BJP has to wait for more time for capturing power in Odisha as the saffron brigade is somehow missing to connect with people.