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Sailing gets tougher now for top players

By A K Sahoo

Bhubaneswar, June 12: It does not appear 2019 elections in Odisha will be a cakewalk for any of the three major political parties in the state – the ruling BJD and the opposition BJP and Congress. As the days pass by, the competition among the three appears to be getting shriller, – forcing the strategists of the each party to be more articulate to give a check to the opponents.

Let’s begin with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party that sprung surprise in the 2017 rural polls by emerging the second major player in the state politics.  The party now aims  to expand its base in eastern India ostensibly to compensate for the reversals it apprehends in northern and central parts of India 2019 Lok Sabha polls, – is all set to face tough battle in Odisha.  Its key rivals in the state are Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Congress.

In the panchayat elections, the BJP zoomed past the Congress and grabbed the second spot by winning 297 Zilla Parishad seats against 476 bagged the BJD, signaling that it was not far away from dealing body blow to the BJD in 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress which was battling the internal bickering blues for nearly two decades, under the new state chief Niranjan Patnaik; – has almost steadied the ship and embarked upon a vigorous campaign against the BJP and BJD.

Well-supported by a group of high-skilled social media managers; leaders of the party’s student and youth wings, the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) has forced both the BJP and BJD to go on the back-foot on petrol and diesel price issue. It blamed the BJP for failing to contain the fuel prices and condemned the BJD for not yielding to the demand for slashing a portion its “hefty” 26 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on petrol and diesel.

The party’s call for six-hour Chakka Bandh call on June 4 in the twin city Cuttack and Bhubaneswar evoked near total response, indicating the party’s reemergence in the state’s political scene as major force to reckon with.

The Congress’s rise, according to experts, will surely make a significant dent more in the growth of the BJP. Until recently, the BJP was growing in strength as large number of Congress leaders and workers joined the party.

The saffron party has now to find out an alternative strategy to preempt possible damage and make up for the losses by luring more number of BJD leaders and workers to its side.

Of the total 2.61 crore voters in Odisha, 78.03 per cent (20390371) voters exercised their franchise in the 2017 panchayat polls. Of this  the BJD got the largest share of 42 per cent, two per cent less than its 2014 Assembly elections vote percentage while the BJP jumped to 32 per cent from 19 per cent in 2014. The Congress was content with 18 per cent votes.

However, the Congress had got 25 per cent votes 2014 Assembly elections.

As the BJP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and two Union ministers from Odisha– Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram, – was steadily climbing new heights of popularity in the state since 2014, – the BJD and Congress have recently managed to push the former to the wall, mainly on the issue of Mahanadi water row with Chhattisgarh.

Chhattisgarh has constructed numerous dam projects on the Mahanadi river allegedly without consulting Odisha, a co-basin state located downstream.

Analysts say that both the Congress and BJD, to a great extent, have succeeded in spreading a message that despite their repeated protests to the “mindless” construction activities on Mahanadi river by Chhattisgarh, the Narendra Modi government did not take any action as that the state is ruled by the BJP.

State BJP leaders, after putting up brave fronts in on the Mahanadi issue for quite some time, ostensibly as a damage control exercise, have finally conceded that Chhattisgarh government was “wrong” in not taking into confidence Odisha, a co-basin state, before construction activities on the Mahanadi

The BJD and Congress are fanning a strong anti-saffron wave in the state on the Special Category state status to the state and discontinuation of certain Central and Central-sponsored programmes.

In the backdrop of myriad hurdles and obstacles, it now appears to be an uphill task for the BJP in Odisha to increase its strengths.  Of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, the party won only Sundargarh seat in 2014 polls. Similarly, it got only 10 members in the 147-member state Assembly in the 2014 elections.

The BJP’s focus on Odisha can well be judged from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the state for six times. During his every visit, he has talked about the tardy growth of eastern India and urged people to bring BJP to power for faster development.

Sources in the BJP said, the party, – emboldened by its 40 lakh successful membership drive, has set the ball rolling in the 36,000-odd booths in the 147 assembly segments. It has appointed at least 70 people in each booth through ‘Mo booth sabuthu mazboot’ (my booth strongest) programme.

The BJP’s game plan harps on getting at least one crore votes to go past the 100+ mark. In the 2014 election, BJD won 117 seats with 93 lakh votes. In 2017 panchayat polls, the BJP secured around 67 lakh votes. Setting a target of 400 votes from each its 36,000 booth-level committees, it hopes to get 1.4 crore votes.

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