An upbeat opposition has made Naveen Patnaik's road to a fourth straight term as Odisha chief minister tougher than expected. He has ruled the state for 14 years.
Elections to Odisha's 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly seats were completed in two phases on April 10 and 17. The state has since then been debating the possibility of resurgent rivals preventing Biju Janata Dal from forming the next government.
Buoyed by the 'Modi wave', state BJP president KV Singh Deo said that his party would bag more than 50 assembly and 10 Lok Sabha seats and form the next government in Odisha. The Congress too has made similar claims. "We will get 55-60 assembly seats and better the 2009 Lok Sabha tally of five," state Congress chief Jayadeb Jena said.
Patnaik's 12-day New Delhi trip just after the polls triggered speculations that he held parleys with non-BJP leaders about possible alliances. He denied this after returning to Bhubaneswar on May 4 to hold hectic parleys with key BJD leaders before flying to Delhi again last week.
Party vice-president Kalpataru Das said BJD would improve upon its 2009 performance of 14 Lok Sabha and 103 assembly seats. "We will form the next government on our own," he said, adding that BJD still maintains 'equidistance from Congress and BJP' at the national level.
Many BJD leaders do not share Das' optimism, and apprehension has replaced the overconfidence that made the party feel invincible a few months before the polls. Party leaders attribute this to infighting and rapid growth of BJP in a short time besides the 'comeback by default' of the Congress in many areas.
"Our internal assessment shows we might get 80 assembly and 10 LS seats. Fewer seats will reduce Patnaik's authority in BJD to a great extent and prop up challengers. We have thus kept the option of post-poll tie-ups open," said a BJD leader requesting anonymity.
Political circles are abuzz with speculations that BJD may try to split the 'weak', dissension-troubled Congress and usurp a faction to make Patnaik's position stable.
But the BJD leadership is also apprehensive about a new alignment of forces if BJP leaders like Bijay Mohapatra and Dilip Ray - they are Patnaik's arch-rivals - get elected to the assembly.
"Both Mohapatra and Ray have sympathisers in BJD as well as Congress. They have the potential to spoil Patnaik's chance for a fourth term if BJD gets less than 75 seats in the assembly," a BJD leader said.