BJP, BJD to go solo in Odisha as talks fail

The BJP “cannot concur” with the BJD on “Odisha’s identity, Odisha’s pride”, says party’s State chief; worried about perception that former bureaucrat V.K. Pandian, a Tamil Nadu native, may succeed BJD chief

March 22, 2024 04:49 pm | Updated 10:32 pm IST - Bhubaneswar/New Delhi

Photo used for representation purpose only

Photo used for representation purpose only

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have both decided to go solo in Odisha for the upcoming Lok Sabha election, ending all speculation about the revival of their alliance.

BJP insiders attributed the development to concerns over the BJD’s internal succession plan, for which the BJP did not want to provide a shield; the party’s State chief added that the welfare schemes of the Narendra Modi-led Union government were not reaching people in the State. The BJD, however, vowed to win three-fourths of the seats on its own, invoking the “spirit of cooperative federalism”.

Going solo

After 17 days of talks back and forth between New Delhi and Bhubhaneswar ended in a stalemate, the BJP’s Odisha president Manmohan Samal declared on Friday that the proposed alliance was off the cards. “This time, the BJP will contest independently across all 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly seats, aiming to foster a developed India and Odisha under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The goal is to realise the hopes and aspirations of 4.5 crore people of Odisha,” he posted on X.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2024 LIVE updates - March 22

Hours later, the regional party followed suit, with BJD organising secretary Pranab Prakash Das saying that the party would “win more than three-fourth seats under the leadership of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.” In his post on X, he said, “BJD will continue to take decisions keeping people of Odisha and their welfare always in the forefront, in the true spirit of cooperative federalism and statesmanship required for nation building.”

BJD succession plan

A senior BJP leader involved in Odisha affairs told The Hindu that the relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was one of “mutual respect and regard”. However, the BJP had strong feelings with regard to the BJD’s internal issues.

Mr. Patnaik’s long-time aide V.K. Pandian recently left government service and formally joined the BJD, and is being seen by many as the man who may succeed the BJD chief. “Whether or not he is acceptable to a large section of the voters in Odisha, as he is from Tamil Nadu, is still not clear. The BJP did not want to be a party, or to be a means of electorally endorsing that succession, especially since, for the last few years, we have been the principal Opposition in the State. It seemed that in this deal, the BJD would gain much, a non-election, basically, and we would be stuck with justifying the BJD’s succession plan,” the leader said.

‘Schemes not reaching grassroots’

Mr. Samal alluded to all of this in his long post on X. “We cannot concur with the State government on many issues, especially Odisha’s identity, Odisha’s pride, and the interest of the people of Odisha,” he posted.

While the BJP was “grateful” to the BJD for its steadfast support to the Modi government in Parliament over the years, Mr. Samal wrote that “many welfare schemes of the Modi government were not reaching the grassroots for which poor brothers and sisters of Odisha were not benefitting.” He added: “We realise that wherever there are double engine governments in the country, there has been accelerated implementation of development and pro-poor welfare schemes and the State have progressed in every sector.”

Lost momentum

Mr. Samal’s message was immediately reposted by Dharmendra Pradhan, senior BJP leader and Union Education Minister, validating the collapse of alliance talks. Aparajita Sarangi, the BJP’s national spokesperson and aspirant for Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat, termed the decision as excellent and said that she was ‘immensely grateful’, in her X post.

The 17 days since it was first indicated that the BJP and BJD would likely form an alliance for the Lok Sabha and coterminus Assembly polls in the State have had an impact on the prospects of the BJP, which has lost some of its momentum, including from the support gained after the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Over the past 17 days, neither the BJP nor BJD announced party candidates for Lok Sabha or Assembly seats in Odisha as the negotiations took place in New Delhi.

The real test for the BJP now will be to convince the electorate that this was an alliance that they weighed and found wanting, as well as justify their reasons for walking out of the negotiations. In a way, the BJP will have to combat not just Mr. Patnaik but also his succession plan, after having been seen to be on board with it.

17 days of speculation

The potential revival of the alliance between the two parties figured in public discourse after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at a public event in Chandikhole of Jajpur district on March 5. During the address, he spoke highly about legendary leader Biju Patnaik on his 108th birth anniversary, and chose not to criticise the BJD government.

On the next day, the regional party had convened a high-level meeting at Mr. Patnaik’s residence. The BJD issued a statement saying, “It was resolved that since by 2036, Odisha will complete 100 years of its Statehood and BJD and CM has major milestones to be achieved by this time, therefore BJD will do everything towards this in the greater interests of people of Odisha and the State.” This statement further fuelled speculation about the alliance.

Past partnership

The BJD had been a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance from 1998 to 2009, with BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik becoming a Cabinet Minister under the Prime Ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The 2008 anti-Christian riots in Odisha triggered differences between the two parties. The regional party distanced itself from the riot and severed ties with the BJP. Both parties subsequently contested 2009 elections separately. In the next two general elections, in 2009 and 2014, the BJP’s performance in Odisha was dismal. However, the Lok Sabha election of 2019 witnessed a turnaround in the BJP fortunes in Odisha as it managed to secure eight seats from the State, while the BJD won 12.

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