Surmounting any anti-incumbency sentiment and moving counter to the Narendra Modi run elsewhere, the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal in Odisha is on to a fourth term, and its 15th consecutive year in power. The landslide win in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections marks its best showing ever. The vote shares are telling: the BJD won 44.1 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections (43.4 for Assembly), while the Congress got 26 (25.7) and the BJP, 21.5 (18). The Congress’s performance is its worst ever. It was hamstrung by a lack of strategic direction and decisive leadership, as also a riven campaign. Mr. Modi, campaigning in the State, addressed well-attended rallies — which proved to be of no avail. The absence of a firm organisational network left the BJP hobbled; in the end, it had to be content with a single Lok Sabha seat, exaggerated expectations deflated. For the Congress and the BJP, the absence of a leader who could match Mr. Patnaik in terms of stature, style and image was a disadvantage. Mr. Patnaik broke his decade-old ties with the BJP-NDA ahead of the 2009 elections. He has since proved he can hold his own. The win also proved the BJD has put behind it the episode involving Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, a party rebel who was expelled in 2012. A secular, development-oriented platform, welfare measures including those that address women’s concerns, initiatives for tribals who constitute a fourth of the population, and a largely transparent style of governance, contributed to the win. The State’s handling of the fallout of Cyclone Phailin in October 2013 was a creditable feat. Mr. Patnaik’s attempts to build a regional identity for the State added to his stature.
If the violence against Christians in Kandhamal district by fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar besmirched Odisha’s reputation during the past decade, Mr. Patnaik’s act of breaking with the BJP’s politics seemed to have succeeded in his government making amends to an extent. Yet, communal tensions still smoulder in parts of the State. These will need to be doused. Issues relating to mining that have been a bugbear for the government need to be sorted out. Maoist activity continues to be a threat in some corridors of the State. In granting it a creditable fourth term, the electorate has put the onus on the BJD to handle these issues satisfactorily while also ensuring development in a State that has historically had some of the worst patches of deprivation. In New Delhi, as the fifth largest party in the House, it should function as a constructive Opposition party with a moral role to check any overreach by the ruling formation at the Centre. To be true to the mandate, the Naveen Patnaik administration needs to address these tasks seriously.