Ahead of 2022 panchayat polls, BJD gets its electoral machinery moving
- Aware that the BJP will focus on Odisha after the Bengal polls, the BJD leadership has been trying to strengthen the party's support base in western Odisha districts.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has thrown its full organisational weight behind winning largely inconsequential by-polls to zilla and gram panchayats, and for panchayat samiti and ward member posts as it prepares to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise in the state ahead of the 2022 panchayat polls.
On Thursday, Union home minister Amit Shah while addressing BJP's social media meet said a victory for the party in Bengal polls would pave the way for electoral victories in Odisha, Telangana and the rest of India. While the BJP election machinery has often steamrolled rivals in most states, beating the BJD is unlikely to be a cakewalk, its deployment in the by-polls suggests.
On Thursday and Friday, by-polls in two zilla parishad zones in Mayurbhanj and Angul district, 17 sarpanch posts in as many gram panchayats were held along with for five posts of panchayat samitis and 92 ward members in 10 districts due to deaths and resignations of the existing representatives. Yet, the BJD has deputed its MPs, MLAs and ministers with the direction to ensure a 100% result.
In the tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district, the by-polls are being held in a zilla parishad zone in Saraskana assembly constituency, while in Angul district it is being held in Parjang assembly constituency. Though the BJP commands supreme majority after winning 50 of the 56 zilla parishads in 2017 panchayatiraj polls, the BJD has still mobilised its workers to win the lone zilla parishad post.
In another sign of its intent, in Angul district, where the regional party commands a majority, having won 16 of the 28 zilla parishad zones, yet it has sent its Dhenkanal MP as well as local MLAs to campaign.
"In Mayurbhanj district, revenue minister Sudam Marandi as well as several senior party functionaries have been working towards winning the zilla parishad zone. For eight panchayats in the zilla parishad zone, eight party functionaries have been deputed. We know that the win would not change anything, but the party leadership wants to ensure that it leaves nothing to chance before next year's panchayat polls. In Angul too, we did not want to concede the seat to BJP and sent MP Mahesh Sahoo there. Organisational secretary Pranab Prakash Das has been checking on the progress of our campaign regularly through WhatsApp video calls," said a BJD leader on condition of anonymity.
Mayurbhanj remains central to the BJD's game plan for next year's panchayat polls as the party is keen to reverse the setback it suffered in 2017 panchayat polls when the BJP surged in rural Odisha by winning 473 of the 853 zilla parishad seats that went to the polls. In 2016 panchayatiraj polls, BJP won 9 of the zilla parishads, most of them in western and tribal Odisha, helping the party win 8 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and secure 38.37 % of the votes, a rise of 16.49 % from its 2014 figures.
Aware that the BJP will focus on Odisha after the Bengal polls, the BJD leadership has been trying to strengthen the party's support base in western Odisha districts of Kalahandi, Bolangir, Sambalpur, Bargarh and tribal Odisha districts of Mayurbhanj, Koraput and Sundargarh. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJD lost out to the BJP in almost the entire western Odisha belt and to the Congress and the BJP in tribal Odisha. Nabarangpur was the only saving grace.
The BJD's game plan of countering the BJP's rise in western Odisha was visible in January this year when chief minister Naveen Patnaik deployed 69 of his MLAs and ministers in 38 gram panchayats of Kalahandi district to mobilise crowds for his visit. Though only 2,500 were present at the meeting place for Patnaik's address, the MLAs and ministers who had fanned out to the gram panchayats ensured thousands heard and saw Patnaik's address on giant LCD screens.
The party would replicate the same formula for Patnaik's meeting in Sundargarh district next week by deputing over 50 MLAs there. In Sundargarh, the party lost out to BJP in Lok Sabha as well on three assembly seats.
"The kind of mobilisation that the BJD is doing even after ruling the state for 20 years shows its hunger to win everything that comes its way and not take its success for granted. Though opposition parties are known to win by-polls, in Odisha, the BJD has lost just one by-poll in the previous 20 years. It is surely using official machinery like most political parties in India do, but its success rate is very high," said Satya Prakash Dash, professor of political science of Sambalpur University.
Dash pointed to the twin bypoll win in Balasore and Tirtol assembly constituencies in November last year. "In Balasore, BJP stood to gain from the sympathy wave generated by the death of the sitting MLA. Yet the party effectively campaigned, carpet bombing the constituency with dozens of MLAs and party leaders and won by a handsome margin. The win showed how electorally strong the regional party is," said Dash.
BJP leader Sajjan Sharma said BJD's success in elections has not translated to better governance. "In the last 20 years, more than 20 lakh youth have registered themselves with different employment exchange offices in the entire state of Odisha. But unfortunately the employment exchange has failed to provide jobs to even less than 1% of the local youths enrolled with it. Just to win polls the party is encouraging criminals as was evident from the murder of a senior BJP leader in Cuttack district this year. Winning elections means nothing when the party is a big zero in governance," said Sharma.