BJP begins campaign for Odisha

BJP national president Amit Shah pays tributes to B.R. Ambedkar statue in Bhubaneswar on Friday, on the eve of BJP’s national executive meeting.  

The senior leadership of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, buoyed by recent successes in the local body polls held in Odisha, are gathering at the State Capital for the party’s national executive to be held over the weekend. A series of events and symbolic gestures have been planned by the party to help politically and culturally identify the BJP — for long dismissed as a north Indian party — as the main contender against the 17 year rule of the Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik government.

Even before Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Bhubhaneswar on Saturday, with a four kilometre roadshow planned from the city’s airport to Janata Maidan, the venue of the meet, party chief Amit Shah not only participated in the Odia new year celebrations in the State unit headquarters but also met with booth level workers to give them a pep talk.

Local connect

“Amitbhai in fact enrolled from Odisha as a member of the BJP during the sadasyata abhiyaan (membership drive) of the party held when he first became party president,” said a senior State unit leader with a fair amount pride.

More significant are two references to Odisha’s political and cultural history that have been made at events related to the national executive — an attempt by the BJP to co-opt the tribal versus coastal Odisha nuance of State politics and an effort to overcome caste categories.

The main sabhagraha or hall where the national executive meeting will take place from Saturday evening onwards has been named after Bhima Bhoi, termed the poet-prophet of the Mahima Dharma. Belonging to the Khond tribe, Bhima Bhoi challenged the authority of caste hierarchy and is revered in the State.

Leveraging history

The second reference to Odia history is the felicitation of 16 families, considered descendants of those who fought in the Paika rebellion of 1817 against the British East India company, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Odisha Raj Bhawan on Sunday. The Paik militia, mostly found in the erstwhile Kingdom of Khurda rose, in revolt against the British after the latter confiscated their rent-free land. It was a bloody rebellion, and the NDA government has in fact set aside money in the Union budget for a commemorative event of the rebellion.

“We intend to work upon our strong showing in the local body polls to issue a serious challenge to the Naveen Patnaik government,” said Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. “One financial daily did a survey where Odisha was among the three States where Prime Minister Modi's credibility is the highest. Therefore, I can say that in 2019, we will be the party in power,” he added.

This eastward shift in the BJP’s focus has been in the pipeline for a while as party president Amit Shah distributed a list of 113 seats where the BJP had a good showing in 2014 but didn’t win. “We are expecting our footprint in our traditional strongholds to shift a bit in 2019, therefore it is important to tap these States of the Coromandel coast,” said a senior party office bearer. In the next two days, the party will mull its possibilities of expansion.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 1:43:46 AM |

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