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BJP gears up to gain a foothold in coastal Odisha

Party president Amit Shah will visit the state on July 1, his 8th visit to the state in 4 years.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2018 23:12 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
BJP,Odisha,Odisha assembly elections
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah at a public meeting in Jajpur, Odisha, in 2017(PTI File Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is working towards getting a foothold in coastal Odisha and has prepared a blue-print with the twin objective of strengthening the organisation and gaining mass support in the state, two BJP leaders familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

BJP president Amit Shah is visiting Odisha on July 1 – his eighth visit to the coastal state in four years – to take stock of the preparation for 2019 when votes are cast for Parliament and the assembly simultaneously. This comes shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Cuttack on the fourth anniversary of his government at the Centre. Shah was in Odisha on April 4 and 5.

“Last year’s panchayat election energized the party, but Bijepur assembly bypoll result had a dampening effect on the morale of the party,” first BJP leader said. “We are reorganizing ourselves and working towards winning new territories.”

The BJP has traditionally drawn votes in the tribal pockets of Western Odisha and did exceptionally well during panchayat polls in districts such as Bargarh, Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj and a few others. But it was never able to breach the Biju Janata Dal stronghold of coastal Odisha.

Of the 70 assembly segments under 10 Lok Sabha seats of coastal Odisha, the BJP could win just two seats (in Puri and Balasore districts) in 2014. It lost all 10 parliamentary seats of coastal Odisha and came second in just two, Balasore and Bhubaneswar.

It was a distant third in the Cuttak, Jajpur, Aska, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Puri and Berhmpur. It polled 1.73 million votes in these 10 parliamentary seats, way behind the Biju Janta Dal tally of 5.13 million and the Congress’ 2.69 million.

“We are working towards narrowing this difference of votes with the Biju Janata Dal,” the second leader said.

Bhubaneswar based political analysts Rabi Dash said BJP has its task cut out in the coastal region. “It could gain traction in some pockets because the Congress was down and out. Between Panchayat elections and now, the Congress has gone through a leadership change, and it may get difficult for the BJP to eat into Congress’ vote bank.”

Dash claims that the BJP marginalising its strong regional leaders, such as Bijoy Mahapatra, could be counter-productive too. “We are growing in Odisha and 2019 election will be a surprise for those who are ruling out the BJP,” said Arun Singh, the BJP general secretary in-charge of Odisha.

The BJP’s strategy, however, is two-fold, the first leader said.

First, more than two dozen local leaders from the costal districts – mostly independent and from the Congress who polled substantial votes during Panchayat elections – have been roped in to add muscles to the BJP’s otherwise fragile organization in the area. During his July 1 visit,

Second, a series of public events of the prime minister, Shah and other union ministers are being planned in the coming months to create buzz around the BJP. The local leaders of the party have strategically let the speculation continue about possibilities of Modi also contesting from the holy city of Puri – one of the Char Dhams – in Coastal Odisha. Modi had contested from Vadodara and Varanasi in 2014, and retain- ed the Lok Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh after winning both.

Shah has said too much was being read into Modi’s Cuttack visit. “The PM holds a rally every year on the anniversary of his government. This year he chose Odisha,” he said last month while interacting with journalists during the anniversary events.

In May, Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters in Bhubaneswar that Modi was a devotee of Lord Jagannath, whose temple is located in Puri, but the parliamentary board will take a call on the seat from which he will contest.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 23:07 IST