By A K Sahoo
Bhubaneswar, : The dream run continues. It has already brought 21 of 29 states under its rule in the country and the party is eying to form governments in Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala. This is said to be best time the saffron party is passing through.
But for the saffron party followers in Odisha, the victory in North-East has not been that much rejoicing as it should have been as they are still recovering from the mental shock they received following their crushing defeat in the hands of BJD in Bijepur assembly poll. BJP’s calculations to get around 60,000 votes fructified while its calculation to register victory went wrong as it could anticipate a huge voter shift of Congress votes towards the BJD, – much because of successful election management.
Notably, the Bijepur battle had come in the backdrop of a number of corruption allegations leveled against the ruling BJD and its leadership Naveen Patnaik, as political analysts maintain; – is going to have far-reaching impacts on the state politics. As the bypoll came a few months before the crucial 2019 assembly polls, it was considered by BJD, BJP and Congress as a battle royale to prove their current net brand value and political worth to the public. Each of them tried to win the race to provide the much needed spirit and enthusiasm to their workers.
Since 2004, Bijepur seat was represented by Subal Sahu. He won the seat in 2004, 2009 and 2014 assembly polls, defying the massive Naveen Patnaik wave sweeping across the state. Sahu died on August 22, 2017 of cancer. When the Congress was just planning to field the Subal Sahu’s widow Rita Sahu from the seat ostensibly to retain it basing on the sympathy wave, the BJD president and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, known for his political masterstrokes, once again played the trick. He stunned the Congress camp by enrolling Rita into the BJD.
The trick worked wonders and the BJD registered a thumping victory. Good election management the young BJD team ensured almost total transfer of Congress votes in favour of the party. Naveen had spent two days in Bijepur to boost the morale of party workers.
In the previous 2014 assembly elections, the Congress candidate had got over 53,290 votes which got reduced to only 10,274 votes this time. Veteran Congress leader Suresh Kumar Routray said the massive transfer of Congress votes to the BJD happened due to sabotaging by some of the senior leaders of the party.
Congress candidate Pranaya Sahu forfeited his deposits. Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Prasad Harichandan resigned from his post owning moral responsibility for the party’s poor show.
For the BJP, it was a do-or-die battle as the party wanted to carry forward from here to achieve the 120-plus mission set by its president Amit Shah.
BJP’s poster boy and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan was leading an aggressive campaign for the party nominee Ashok Panigrahi. Half-a-dozen Union ministers, including stalwarts like Jual Oram and Smriti Irani, – had addressed several public meetings during the campaign.
While in the rural elections held in February 2017, the BJP had polled around 91,000 votes in the constituency, it got only 60,938 votes this time.
The Bijepur battle was seen as direct tussle between Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for 2019 polls, – and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik. The BJD victory, as a section of analysts pointed out, has dealt a body blow to Mr Pradhan and now he has to return to his drawing board to redraft his strategies for staging a comeback.
In fact, Bijepur outcome has taught a big lesson to the BJP. It has to take care that in the coming electoral exercises, the Congress votes do not get transferred in favour of the BJD.