As the campaigning for the first phase ended in Odisha on Tuesday, it became clear that it would not be a cakewalk for the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) that has been ruling the state for 14 years.
Although infighting and a recharged BJP have made chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s fight tougher than expected this time, BJD vice-president Kalpataru Das is confident that his party will return to power for the fourth time.
He said, “We will win much more than the 14 Lok Sabha and 108 assembly seats that we hold now.”
But the scenario started changing in the past two weeks with intense electioneering in 10 of the 21 LS and 70 of the 147 assembly seats that are going to polls in the first phase on April 10.
Being the BJD’s only star campaigner, Patnaik had to cover more than 75 rallies in the last fortnight —mechanically reading five-minute speeches before leaving in a hurry. This time, most of his rallies have been marked by lack of enthusiasm and smaller crowd sizes.
By contrast, BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi managed to draw fairly bigger crowds.
Modi, during his five rallies so far, tore apart the state government, calling it “nikamma” (useless), while Gandhi accused it of being neck-deep in corruption. Patnaik retaliated by saying these leaders were like “migratory birds”.
What has made the BJD rank and file uncomfortable is the fast rise of the BJP. It seems to have regained grounds in western Odisha while making inroads into southern and even coastal Odisha.
“The BJP will definitely better its 2004 tally of six LS seats this time,” said party spokesperson Suresh Pujari, contesting from Sambalpur. A former BJD minister, however, said, “The BJP will cut into non-Congress votes, eventually boosting the Congress’ prospect in term of votes.”