A series of scam allegations against the ruling BJD, the absence of a crisis manager in the party, the diminishing support base for the Congress and the BJP’s good show in the recently held Lok Sabha polls — these are all loaded opportunities for the saffron party to revive itself in the coastal state.
Though the party won just one seat out of 21 in Odisha, BJP’s vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was 21.5% as against the 16.9% that it won in the 2009 polls.
The lone BJP MP from Sundargarh, Jual Oram, has been inducted as the tribal affairs minister in the Narendra Modi-led cabinet. Dharmendra Pradhan, another leader from Odisha who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar, is the minister of state (independent) for petroleum and natural gas. The two ministers’ frequent trips to Odisha also reflect the BJP central leadership’s seriousness about the state.
A senior party leader told HT that newly elected BJP chief Amit Shah plans to capture areas where Congress is getting weak and wean away some disgruntled leaders from the ruling BJD.
Congress’ vote share dipped by about 7% in 2009, as compared to the previous elections and current chief minister Naveen Patnaik is facing heat over the alleged chit fund scam, irregularities in use of discretionary quota for allotment of land and the misuse of forest land.
Patnaik has also lost a ‘trouble-shooter’ in Piyarimohan Mahapatra, who formed the Odisha Jana Morcha after being suspended in June 2012 after an alleged coup attempt against the CM. Mahapatra, a former IAS officer may not be a leader for masses, but he was Patnaik’s right hand man for years for looking after organisational matters.
The BJP has launched an extensive membership campaign in the state, trying to induct new people, including retired officers, into its fold and has started holding weekly meetings on issues affecting the state.
“We are trying to connect with intellectuals and retired government officials and are seeking their suggestions. The feedback, so far, has been good,” said party spokesperson Sajjan Sharma.
But the real problem lies with the factionalism in the state unit of the party and even the local unit of the RSS.
Party insiders admit that the BJP has failed to take advantage of the ‘unrest’ within the BJD and recent controversies surrounding the state government. Moreover, allegations of backstabbing and embezzlement of election funds have dogged the BJP.
The saffron party shared power with the BJD for nine years before chief minister Naveen Patnaik snapped ties with it in 2009 following apprehensions that the BJP’s hardliner position may be detrimental to its interests. Since then BJP’s fortunes were on the decline.
However, the central party leadership claim that all is not lost in the state and with a little push, the BJP has the potential to bounce back and even capture power in the next five years.
Both Modi and Shah plan to extensively tour the state to meet the party cadre and discuss electoral issues.