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Dominance of regional parties in Orissa

Regional parties have shared power at one time or the other in the state's political history, but none had been as successful as the Biju Janata Dal.
PTI | By Press Trust of India, Bhubaneswar
UPDATED ON APR 03, 2004 01:46 PM IST

Orissa has seen quite a few regional parties, who even shared power at one time or the other in the state's political history, but none had been as successful as the Biju Janata Dal.

Before the BJD appeared on the horizon, Orissa had seen three major regional outfits, the Ganatantra Parishad (GP), Jana Congress and Utkal Congress, all of which formed governments in alliance with other parties.

The Naveen Patnaik-led party, which formed an alliance with the BJP in 1998, has been in government for the longest time eclipsing the tenure of the Swatantra-Jana Congress coalition government that was in the saddle between March 1967 and January 1971.

The BJD-BJP government, sworn-in on March 5, 2000, has stayed in office for over four years now and could have completed its five-year term had it not decided to recommend dissolution of the assembly and go for early polls.

It was the Ganatantra Parishad, floated by politicians with royal background after independence, which was Orissa's first regional party and main opposition of the Congress in the early years.

Led by former maharaja of Patna (now Bolangir) Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo and former maharaja of Kalahandi Pratap Keshari Deo, the party had attracted people with royal connections and had a great influence in Western Orissa and formerly princely states.

The regional outfit won 31 assembly seats against the Congress tally of 67 in the 1952 polls and registered a much improved performance in 1957 winning 51 seats against 56 of the Congress.

The Congress managed to cobble up a majority, but the government led by Harekrushna Mahtab faced instability in the face of defections and horse trading.

Floor crossing by eight GP MLAs, six independents and a communist enabled the Congress some breathing space, but the Mahtab-led regime floundered again when some of the GP members chose to return back to the opposition benches.

This was followed by exodus of a small group of Congress legislators including a deputy minister to the GP fold reducing the government to a minority.

A disgusted Mahtab resigned in May 1958 amidst uncertain circumstances but later invited the GP to join the ministry.

Orissa had its first coalition government in May 1959 which lasted till February 1961 when it collapsed. Mid-term polls were held in June 1961 in which Congress, led by the mercurial Biju Patnaik, won a clear majority by capturing 82 out of 140 seats. The GP came a distant second with 36 seats.

The GP also fought the 1962 lok sabha elections by fielding its candidates in its areas of influence only, winning four of them against seven won in 1957.

Soon after the elections, the party merged with the Swatantra Party headed by C Rajgopalachari in 1962.

Differences between towering leaders Biju Patnaik and Mahtab within the Congress led to the birth of yet another regional party - the Jana Congress - headed by the latter on May 5, 1966. One MP and 11 Congress MLAs sided with the new party.

The Jana Congress struck an alliance with the Swatantra Party while adjustments were made in regard to a few seats with the Praja Socialist Party (PSP). Having fielded only 47 candidates in the assembly polls, the Jana Congress won 26 while the Swatantra captured 49 seats.

The Swatantra Jana Congress Ministry headed by Swatantra Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo was sworn in on March 8,1967. Jana Congress leader Pabitra Mohan Pradhan became the deputy chief minister.

Even as the new disposition took roots, Biju Patnaik's differences with the Congress high command continued to widen and he left the party in 1970 to float the "Utkal Congress", also a regional outfit.

The break Biju Patnaik had with the Congress was momentous as the legendary politician was never to return to Congress again.

After running the state for three years and ten months, the Singh Deo regime quit in January 1971 paving the way for simultaneous polls in Orissa. Though Mahtab rejoined the Congress, a group of his followers including Pabitra Mohan Pradhan refused to do so and the Jana Congress lived on only to face an electoral disaster.

In the assembly polls that followed, Jana Congress fielded 66 candidates of whom only one won. The Congress improved its performance winning 51 seats while the Swatantra and Utkal Congress captured 36 and 33 seats respectively.
The tally was only two short of absolute majority in the 140-member house. It was certain that the coalition would be invited to form the government.

The two stalwarts Biju Patnaik and Singh Deo came together and formed an "united front" with the Jharkhand Party (which had four MLAs) and decided that a 'compromise candidate' should be invited to head the coalition government.

Veteran leader and former Uttar Pradesh governor, 82-year -old Biswanath Das was invited to be the chief minister. As he had not contested the elections, he was elected to the house from Rourkela in a byelection.

The ministry was short-lived as it fell in June 1972 following floor-crossing which enabled the Congress to form the government led by Nandini Satpathy.

Both the Jana Congress and Utkal Congress tasted instant electoral success after their formation. The latter merged in the Bharatiya Lok Dal prior to the 1977 Lok Sabha elections.

It was virtually a battle between the Congress and the rest led by Biju Patnaik in Orissa in the post-emergency era when either the Congress or the Biju-led Janata (1977-80 and 1990-95) which won clear - in many cases landslide - victories in the 1977, 1980, 1985, 1990 and 1995 assembly polls.

Biju's demise in April 1997 opened the avenue for the birth of another regional party---the Biju Janata Dal.

A large majority of the leaders in the Janata Dal, finding themselves leaderless, came together to float the BJD in December 1997. Most of them thought that a regional party, if it enters into an alliance with the BJP, can reap much electoral benefit. And it turned out to be true.

The BJD-BJP alliance did well in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls winning nine of the 21 seats. It swept the polls in 1999 parliamentary elections capturing 19 seats (BJD -10, BJP-9) and then threw the Congress out of government winning 106 out of 147 seats (68 BJD and 38 BJP) while the Congress could get only 26 seats in the 2000 assembly elections.

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