A narrow loss: on the BJD’s loss

The BJD’s ploy of equivocation towards the BJP at the Centre resulted in its decline

Updated - June 06, 2024 09:10 am IST

Published - June 06, 2024 12:20 am IST

After 24 years and three months in power in Odisha, outgoing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will finally pass the baton to a new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. The performance of the Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the Assembly elections was not poor — a 40.22% vote share, that was marginally ahead of the BJP’s 40.07%. But the BJP was able to win in more constituencies, getting 78 of the 147 seats as against the BJD’s 51. The BJD’s performance in the simultaneously held Lok Sabha polls was slightly worse — its vote share dipped by 2.76 points to 37.46% while the BJP’s increased to 45.41%, by a whopping 5.34 points. Clearly, a section of BJD voters preferred the BJP for the Lok Sabha despite voting for the incumbent in the Assembly elections. The BJP mustered a strong vote share across geographical regions, besting the BJD even in its rural strongholds, while enhancing its already substantial urban vote shares. The BJD’s relatively poor performance, compared to the 2019 Assembly elections, when it won 44.7% of the votes, must be attributed to Mr. Patnaik’s diminishing appeal. The party had assiduously built its popularity on the basis of welfare measures, including targeted schemes in the largely agrarian State. Mr. Patnaik garnered much of the credit for these schemes and each electoral victory over the years deepened his support base.

The BJP emphasised Mr. Patnaik’s alleged frail health and attacked his protégé, the former bureaucrat-turned politician V.K. Pandian and his Tamil roots. The insularity of this campaign notwithstanding, the question of Mr. Patnaik’s succession was deftly used by the BJP to sow doubts in the BJD’s base. A number of defections from the BJD to the BJP over the years also helped the BJP seize the initiative. That prior to the elections, both parties had engaged in parleys to contest as an alliance and the BJP later broke off the talks suggest that the BJP had an inkling that it stood a better chance fighting the BJD. The BJD’s policy of endorsing most of the BJP-led government’s measures, including controversial ones, and to play the role of a friendly party that was not part of the NDA backfired, just as it did with the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh. These parties along with the Bharat Rashtra Samiti in an earlier period and the Bahujan Samaj Party, allowed themselves to be used as buffers by the BJP in the expectation that the BJP would help them stave off their rivals in their States. But these stances only affected them in the long run as they allowed the BJP to pick up support and leaders who defected from their ranks. The BJD’s loss of power and the rapid decline of the YSRCP and BRS offer a cautionary tale about these parties’ ploy of equivocation.

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