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Mission 120 easier said than done for Amit Shah’s BJP in Odisha

The BJP president’s full-throated cry to unseat Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik in 2019 assembly elections is a path that is rocky.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2017 16:28 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Odisha,BJP,Amit Shah
BJP president Amit Shah addressing party workers in Bhubaneswar.(PTI)

Comparing the 71-year-old Naveen Patnaik to a defunct transformer and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a powerhouse, Amit Shah during his long speech at BJP workers’ meeting in Bhubaneswar this week sought to portray the four-time chief minister as one bereft of ideas and short on effective implementation of developmental schemes.

The BJP president’s full-throated cry to unseat Patnaik in 2019 assembly elections has raised the temperature of politics in Odisha, but the road to his Mission 120 seats is surely rocky.

In the 2014 polls, BJP’s lack of booth infrastructure stopped it from reaping the benefits of a pan-India Modi wave. Realising that, Shah has set the ball rolling in the 36,000-odd booths in the 147 assembly segments, aiming to appoint at least 70 people in each booth through ‘Mo booth sabuthu mazboot’ (my booth strongest) programme.

But, Patnaik is not sitting idle too, and has offered sops after sops, besides rolling out “Aama Sahara, Ama Unnati” (my city, my development) programme, a booth-level exercise in wards of municipalities ahead of next year’s urban body polls.

The civic polls would be the real test of BJP’s booth programme.

One Crore Votes, 100-Plus Seats

The saffron party’s gameplan harps on getting a crore votes to go past the 100+ mark. In the 2014 election, BJD won 117 seats with 93 lakh votes. In this year’s panchayat polls, BJP secured around 67 lakh votes registering a nine-fold jump in the number of zilla parishad seats it won. Setting a target of 400 votes from each its 36,000 booth-level committees, it hopes to get 1.4 crore votes.

The party has also pinned its hopes on anti-incumbency wave drowning out BJD. But with little disenchantment against Patnaik, whose personal image is unsullied despite two decades in Odisha politics, it is going to be massive challenge for the BJP even to hold on to the 67 lakh votes that it secured.

While BJP aims to get more second rung leaders from BJD and Congress to join its ranks, BJD is also wooing disgruntled BJP and Congress leaders into its fold.

Incidentally, in the last panchayat polls, a large part of the votes that BJP secured came from Congress, which like other states, continues to be on a steady decline in Odisha.

However, there is no certainty that BJP can poach any more votes of Congress if the grand old party gets its act together in the next one year.

Patnaik’s Image

Another challenge for Shah’s Mission 120 plan would be making the people of Odisha believe that the Patnaik regime is a corrupt one. While several state and central government programmes remain mired in corruption, Patnaik’s personal image largely remains untainted.

On the other hand, the CM’s recent move asking the state vigilance to take stringent action against those seeking bribes for routine government schemes may have endeared him to electorate.

Social media which helped BJP win the 2014 polls is another weapon where BJP think it can upstage BJD. From creating WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages to highlighting the drawbacks of BJD government, the party has charted out elaborate plans of targeting 40 lakh smartphone users in Odisha.

BJD is also not lagging behind as Patnaik has shed his image of an unapproachable person posing for selfies in social media. The party’s social media cell is quite active with its leaders busy engaging the youth.

Drawing on his famed skill of micromanaging elections, Shah has reportedly planned to get the PM more frequently to Odisha while he himself would have meetings with party workers in districts. But the biggest challenge for BJP could turn out to be taking on Patnaik without a chief ministerial candidate. Unlike other states where BJP won without having a CM face, a similar strategy may not work.

Sops and Surprises

To Shah’s utter surprise, the canny Patnaik can throw a last minute surprise like he did in 2008 when he started Re 1 a kg rice scheme, ahead of 2009 assembly polls. This year, he has brought an ordinance that assures land for the urban poor. With the SC asking mining companies to pay Rs 17,000-odd crore as penalty to Odisha government, the funds may help CM declare a few more sops to woo the electorate. How much Odisha electorate would buy Shah’s promise of a new Odisha in the face of BJD’s chain of sops remains to be seen.

BJD leader and agriculture minister Damodar Rout is convinced that Amit Shah’s rhetorics will have a negative impact.”Shah has insulted Odisha chief minister during his visit. People of Odisha will answer him very soon,” he said.

BJP leader Sajjan Sharma said BJD leaders are too drunk with power to see the reality on ground. “They have exploited the feelings of Odia people to gain political power. People on the ground have decided for change.”

While BJD and BJP slug it out among themselves, Congress does not seem to be reviving any time soon even if they get a new chief. The party which secured about 19% votes in panchayat polls, is steadily losing many of its grassroots workers to both BJD and BJP. Getting a new PCC chief may stem its rot temporarily, but the party does not seem to have any vision for growth.

Irrespective of the outcome of the 2019 assembly election, the next Assembly election in Odisha promises to be exciting.

First Published: Sep 10, 2017 15:08 IST