Assembly Elections 2019: For Naveen Patnaik, PM Modi-led BJP blitzkrieg may be tough to conquer
In 2019 the suave Patnaik was up against PM Narendra Modi and his party who more than matched his party’s resources. Much before the state went to polls, PM Modi and his lieutenant and BJP president Amit Shah had Odisha on their radar along with Bengal.Updated: May 23, 2019 07:58 IST
For Naveen Patnaik, the longest-serving chief minister of Odisha, May 23 will be a red letter day.
In 2014, Naveen Patnaik was among the few who bucked the Modi wave. But if the exit polls of 2019 are to be believed, things may be different. Facing a resurgent BJP bolstered with many of his former colleagues such as Baijayant Panda and increasing voter fatigue, 2019 may not be as clear as his own advisers would like to believe.
If the BJD wins on May 23, the four-time chief minister, who spearheaded the party’s electoral campaign in the Assembly polls that was held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls, would match former West Bengal CM Jyoti Basu and Sikkim CM Pawan Kumar Chamling’s record of becoming the CM for a record fifth time.
But unlike Chamling and Basu, the case of Patnaik is different. While Chamling and Basu never faced real opposition in the twilight of their political career, in 2019 the suave Patnaik was up against PM Narendra Modi and his party who more than matched his party’s resources. Much before the state went to polls, PM Modi and his lieutenant and BJP president Amit Shah had Odisha on their radar along with Bengal.
Once the polls were announced, the Modi-Shah duo led a BJP blitzkrieg against Patnaik’s citadel with the slogan of a double-engine sarkaar (BJP government at the state and Centre) stretching the 73-year-old chief minister’s all available resources. Battling spondylosis and other age-related ailments, Patnaik was forced to travel over 1000 km around the state in his specially-designed air-conditioned bus as the BJP stepped up its attack on Patnaik. The nervousness of Patnaik and the BJD was evident when the chief minister filed to contest his second seat from Bargarh’s Bijepur Assembly constituency.
Of the 146 (election in 1 was postponed due to the death of BJD candidate in Patkura) Assembly seats that went to polls, the fight was directly between the BJP and BJD in at least 115 seats and triangular in the rest. With the Congress, once a dominant party for almost 3 decades, slowly disintegrating, many of its workers headed for BJP, boosting its chances manifold.
The BJP which gave a battle cry of Mission 120 (winning 120 of the 147 seats) before the polls, imported several leaders from BJD and a few from Congress who could not get tickets. It brought in Congress MLA Prakash Behera, BJD’s Debraj Mohanty, Raghunath Mohanty and Purna Chandra Nayak among others to shore up its strength. In some places the party got people who had garnered a good number of votes in 2014 fighting as independent candidates.
The party’s campaign on the BJD being a government that shelters corrupt people too struck a chord with the people. The BJD repeating many of its old faces, who faced severe anti-incumbency too has helped the BJP. Tired of Patnaik’s populist schemes that essentially handed out doles, a large portion of the first-time voters wanted change and rooted for BJP.
But the party’s failure in projecting a chief ministerial face who can match upto Naveen Patnaik may turn out to be its major failure. “There was clear confusion among voters as to who would be BJP’s CM candidate - Baijayant Panda, Dharmendra Pradhan or Aaparajita Sarangi. People want a change in leadership. But who do they choose in place of Naveen Patnaik,” asked political analyst Debendra Prusty.
On his part, Patnaik had read the anti-incumbency signals much better as he unrolled Kalia, a cash transfer scheme for over 57 lakh farmers two months before the state went to polls. Though only 32 lakh farmers could benefit from the scheme, Patnaik’s announcement of giving two instalments of the scheme to the rest of the farmers on the day of his government’s return to power may have helped revive the party’s fortunes.
Analysts say Patnaik’s assiduous cultivation of women voters through women self help groups is likely to help him ride the obstacles in 2019 polls. Last year, he had announced 6 lakh smartphones for as many self help groups and followed it up with Rs 15,000 assistance to each of them. In the 2014 polls, over 74 per cent of the women voters had cast their votes, a huge jump from 50 per cent in 2009. BJD leaders estimate, a large chunk of the women voters must have voted for their party due to the proliferation of women SHGs.
The EVMs hold the key to the million dollar question whether Patnaik would be 5th time lucky.