The election results in Odisha underline two crucial aspects of the competitive electoral politics in the State. First, one finds an elusive “battle of images” between Naveen Patnaik as a simple and committed Chief Minister and Narendra Modi as a powerful and decisive Prime Minister. Second, it was a clear tussle between rural Odisha, which depends on welfare and affirmative action, and the aspirational urban Odisha, whose population wants to emerge as a powerful middle class.
This election marks a major departure in State politics as the Congress is completely marginalised and the BJP has emerged not only as the main Opposition but also as a challenger to the Biju Janata Dal. Since there is no “second-line” leadership in the BJD, the BJP is only waiting to capture power in the State.
While the BJD lost eight Lok Sabha seats from its 2014 tally, the party still managed to be ahead of the BJP despite a clear preference for Narendra Modi among voters. The party won 12 seats to the BJP’s eight. While the BJP increased its previous vote share by 17 percentage points to 38.4%, the BJD’s vote declined marginally to 42.8%. The Congress’s share came down drastically, though it did manage to open its account (unlike last time) winning the Koraput seat.
Table 1: Seats Won and Votes secured in 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections
The BJD’s performance in the simultaneous Assembly election is more remarkable. Mr. Patnaik’s party lost merely five seats, winning 112 of the 146 seats (a three-fourths majority). Its vote share of 44.7% in the Assembly election was also higher than in the previous election. The BJP won 23 seats and 32.5% of the vote, displacing the Congress as the main Opposition party.
The survey shows that an overwhelming majority of respondents (two in every three) identified Mr. Patnaik as the most suitable person for the post of Chief Minister. However, this does not mean that the people of Odisha ignored the Modi phenomena. On who should be the next Prime Minister, BJD supporters were absolutely clear that it was Mr. Modi.
Table 2: Absolute clarity among voters: Modi for PM, Patnaik for CM
The failure of the BJP (if it may be called so) to overtake the BJD in the Lok Sabha election may be attributed to its State-level leadership. For instance, BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan tried his best to create an authentic Odia image outside Odisha. However, the BJD establishment was smart enough to counter him in many ways and would not allow him to carve out a space for himself in the media-discourse as an alternative. The survey shows that even among the BJP’s Lok Sabha voters, Mr. Pradhan emerged as the chief ministerial choice of just 17% respondents with close to three-fifths of them backing Naveen Patnaik.
Table 3: State and Central governments were almost equally popular
The survey found the BJP to have done particularly well among the middle and upper classes. But this was not sufficient to destabilise Mr. Patnaik’s people-centric image as the poor and the lower classes were firmly behind him yet again. While both the BJP and the BJD were found to be doing slightly better in urban than rural areas and among women than men, when it came to class, the profile of their voters was different.
One may read these findings in relation to the style of governance. Mr. Patnaik has a team of dedicated bureaucrats, who manage different welfare programs. All activities are centrally monitored. In this schema, the politicians enjoy fewer powers than bureaucrats. This style of governance has helped the BJD sideline the Congress completely in the State. The Congress used to enjoy the support of the marginalised communities in the past. Today, the competition is between the BJD and the BJP. The BJD continues to garner support across social blocs, but the BJP is raising a serious challenge to the party that has been in power for four terms now. Both among the Adivasis and the OBCs, the BJP has taken over the BJD this time.
Table 4: Lok Sabha election: Poor and lower classes with BJD and the middle and upper with BJP
The survey found that the KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) scheme of the Patnaik government to give financial aid to farmers may have been crucial in the BJD’s lead over the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. Though the survey found farmers to be supporting the BJP more than the BJD, among farmers who had benefited from the KALIA scheme (39% said they had benefited), the BJD led the BJP by 9 percentage points. Among farmers who did not benefit from KALIA, it was the BJP that led the BJD by a similar margin.
Table 5: How communities voted
(Gyanaranjan Swain teaches Political Science, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack; Hilal Ahmed is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi).