Odisha: Rise of one-party dominant State

The Biju Janta Dal (BJD) in Odisha withstood the challenge of the Modi wave that swept across much of India’s political landscape in the 2014 elections. The BJD not only won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats but it also won 117 of the 147 Vidhan Sabha seats where the elections were held simultaneously. In the Lok Sabha election BJD improved its vote share by almost seven per cent. While the Congress miserably failed to emerge as a credible alternative to the BJD, the fate of the BJP was not different either. Naveen Patnaik led BJD has been in power for last 15 years and it won another thumping mandate to continue ruling the State.

Unlike in neighbouring Bihar, where the BJP managed to gain despite its long time ally JD (U) parting ways with it, the BJP has not been able to gain much ground in Odisha after the BJD deserted it just before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Though the BJP managed to improve its vote share by five percentage points in comparison to 2009, it was not enough to challenge the BJD. In the assembly elections, the BJP remains at the number three position with only 10 seats. The Congress came second. In other words, as the BJD continues to dominate state politics, other two parties are engaged in a competition to become a credible opposition in the state. As of now, it can be said that the electoral victory of the BJD was shaped substantially by the fact that there is no reliable and strong opposition to the party in Odisha. In urban areas, the BJP put up a challenge to the BJD, whereas in rural areas its fight was mainly with the Congress.

The BJD’s social base is very similar to that of the BJP elsewhere—the upper castes and the OBCs support the party overwhelmingly. It also receives support from Dalits and Adivasis, but here, the Congress is still the main challenger with 42 per cent Dalits and 32 per cent Adivasis supporting it. Even among Christians, the Congress gets 39 per cent support. What distinguishes the BJD, however, is its broad-based social support across different communities and social sections. Banking on the image of its leader, Naveen Patnaik, the BJD was able to perform well across social sections and regions of the State.

The NES pre-poll data shows that the dissatisfaction level of voters in the State with the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has increased from 2009. From 33 per cent in 2009 it increased up to 45 per cent. On the other hand, the satisfaction level was much higher for the State government than the Centre as 76 per cent of the voters were satisfied with the State government compared to 51 per cent who were satisfied with the Central government.

The BJD managed to convince voters that the Congress-led Central government has discriminated the State in allocation of funds and therefore they are demanding special status for the State. While this election has seen the eclipse of the Congress, the BJD may have a tough rival in the form of the BJP. Around 43 per cent voters in Odisha supported Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. The party has put in place its organisational network in both eastern and western parts of the State. The task of the BJD is daunting because like the past five years, it will have to engage in politics of relative isolation—it will be opposed to the ruling party at the Centre and at the same time the prospects of any understanding with its arch rival at the State level, the Congress party, are dim. The success of the BJD in the future will depend much upon how it handles this double isolation and keeps its flock together.

Prabhat Mohanty and Pramod Ray are Bhuvneshwar based researchers.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:22:53 AM |

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