Naveen Patnaik’s BJD takes lead over BJP in Lok Sabha polls in Odisha
After steamrolling the opposition for 19 years, the BJD is facing a serious challenge from the BJP in Lok Sabha elections in Odisha.
The Biju Janata Dal was leading in 14 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha and its main challenger BJP in seven after almost three hours after counting started on Thursday. The state has 21 Lok Sabha seats.
For last 19 years, the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik was the single dominant party in Odisha that went from strength to strength winning polls, bypolls, municipal elections and panchayat elections. Its well-oiled election machinery chugged along as the opposition BJP and Congress only watched helplessly.
But various exit polls of May 19 had predicted a remarkable performance by the BJP that could end the days of single-party dominance in the state. The Republic exit polls with CVoter predicted that BJP would win ten Lok Sabha seats against BJD’s 11 out oof the 21 seats in the state. The second exit poll of Republic with Jan ki Baat said BJP may win 12 seats and BJD 9. The most stunning exit polls on Odisha came from India Today Axis that said BJP would win 15 to 19 Lok Sabha seats while the BJD will win only 2 to 6 seats.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJD had won 20 of the 21 seats leaving just one seat to BJP.
Election Commission officials said a total of 174 candidates fought in the four-phase Lok Sabha polls between April 11 and April 29. Odisha recorded 73.08 per cent voter turnout for the Lok Sabha polls.
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Of the 21 Lok Sabha seats that went into polls, the fight was directly between BJP and BJD in 18 seats and triangular in tribal-dominated Sundargarh, Nabaranagpur and Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituencies.
BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi put up an aggressive campaign as its leaders including BJP national president Amit Shah, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan addressed over 40 rallies. Modi and Shah launched a blistering attack on BJD accusing the party over its failure in using central funds as well as rising corruption at grassroots level. Modi also invoked nationalism and spoke about India’s airstrike in Balakot to strike a chord among the first-time voters.
Modi’s aggressive campaign is believed to have led to tactical voting in several constituencies with voters opting for BJP candidates in Lok Sabha polls and BJD for Assembly polls. But the extent of the tactical voting would be known only on May 23.
For BJD, chief minister Naveen Patnaik was the main campaigner who travelled over 1000 km in a specially-designed campaign bus asking voters to send 21 BJD MPs who can aggressively pursue Odisha’s interests in Delhi. Promising to be playing the role of kingmaker after May 23, Patnaik slammed both BJP and Congress in his campaign meetings, but said his party would no longer be equidistant and support any party that takes care of Odisha’s interest.
The Congress which t could not win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2014, ran a lacklustre campaign. Its campaign posters did not talk of Nyay scheme, the biggest cash handout scheme for rural poor. Congress president Rahul Gandhi almost left the Odisha Congress rudderless as he shied away from attending any of the party’s public meetings. The party also continued to struggle with intense factionalism as its president of women Congress resigned from the party accusing PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik of nepotism in ticket distribution.
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The Lok Sabha constituency that would be keenly watched is Kendrapara where BJP vice-president Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda is fighting Odia cinestar and BJD candidate Anubhav Mohanty. But the real fight is between Panda and chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who suspended the former Kendrapara MP from the party last year. Panda subsequently resigned from the party expressing his sorrow and anguish over BJD’s ‘politics of vengeance’.
The fight between Panda and the Odisha chief minister was so intense that the latter addressed more than two dozen big public meetings in the constituency in April and even spent a night in the district ahead of the polls. At least, 50 BJD MLAs and several ministers camped in the district to micromanage individual grampanchayats.