What are the big numbers that indicate Odisha’s social structure?
Odisha’s literacy rate is 72.87%, as per Census 2011. It has a high rural population of 83.3% and a sex ratio of 979. The number of Odiyas in government and private sector jobs has risen, though its 17.54 million workers account for less than half of its population of 41.97 million. Odisha has the third-highest population of scheduled tribes among Indian states. Scheduled castes comprise 17.1% of the population. There are 31.84 million voters in the state. Odisha was a very backward state for long, but under chief minister Naveen Patnaik, it has made rapid progress in industrialization.
Patnaik, as the leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), has been at the helm of the state for around 19 years. He has restricted himself to the state, though BJD has one of the better representations among regional parties in the Lok Sabha. Patnaik spent years living a jet-set lifestyle abroad before his father Biju Patnaik’s death in 1997. His struggle with Odia is part of the folklore, but his clean image, progressive outlook and social welfare schemes have endeared him to the masses. The (BJP has been a distant number two for some time, while the Congress is almost a distant memory now.
Kandhamal, Sambhalpur, Puri, Bhadrak, Dhenkanal, Cuttack, Aska, Keonjhar, Kendrapara, Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Bolangir and Jagatsinghpur are the key constituencies. The BJD has 15 seats in the outgoing Lok Sabha.
What are the key challenges before Naveen Patnaik?
More members are deserting BJD than those joining it before the Lok Sabha polls. Anti-incumbency has not touched Patnaik so far, but BJP has never been hungrier. The party is looking to offset some of the losses it might suffer in the Hindi heartland states, where it won big last time. It has poached BJD member Baijayant Jay Panda, even as its very own, Dharmendra Pradhan, eyes the state crown. Patnaik is contesting from two assembly seats this time to counter BJP’s rise in western Odisha.
What are the key issues for voters?
Odisha is rich in coal, bauxite, iron and rare earth minerals. Production at mines has been slow in the wake of a sluggish economy over the past five years. Jobs are few, poverty is widespread and Odisha still suffers from starvation deaths. Caste plays an exploitative role in everyday life and businesses are run by upper castes. Delivery of the public distribution system is lethargic. With hyper-nationalism at play, it will be a tough fight between BJP’s high-decibel campaign and the sophistication of an able administrator.