New Delhi: After four consecutive terms in office, Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) faced the toughest battle during this simultaneous polls primarily due to the Bharataiya Janata Party (BJP) putting up a strong fight in the state.
Despite a missing Congress, which was earlier the principal opposition to the BJD, a resurgent BJP made the polls competitive and is hoping to to bag a good number of Lok Sabha seats in the state. As the seven phase polls in the country comes to a close Sunday evening there is curiosity in the air: will Patnaik get a record fifth term or will Odisha spring a saffron surprise?
The soaring popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state and a campaign with enough emphasis on nationalism and national security could spring a surprise for the BJP in terms of gains. With one of the 21 seats in the 2014 elections, any gain this time is positive for the BJP. But, the saffron party looked at Odisha as a growth state that it believes will help compensate some of the losses it may incur in Uttar Pradesh.
“You will see a saffron surprise in Odisha in the line of Tripura. “We will stage an upset in the state and form the government," BJP leader and union minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said in an interview to Mint last month.
Pradhan, who has been working consistently in the state for the last five years, said three things are helping BJP in the state — PM Modi, anti-incumbency due to 19 years of misrule by CM Naveen Patnaik, and the growth in the BJP’s organisational capacity.
In contrast, BJD leaders, including Patnaik, believe that despite certain degree of anti-incumbency, the regional party will emerge victorious negating the BJP and its hopes. In 2014 elections, the BJD won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and 117 of the 147 assembly seats.
However, post elections, both the NDA and the UPA are hoping to pull in the BJD to their camp. Both PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have sounded soft corners for Naveen Patnaik during different press interactions post 29 April when the four phase elections ended in the state.
During a recent visit to Odisha to review the situation post Cyclone Fani, Modi openly praised Patnaik for his massive rescue operation ahead of the severe cyclone and how it helped in minimising human casualty. Similarly, Shah in his press conference took the name of Patnaik while comparing how Bengal elections have been full of violence, while it went well in neighboring Odisha.
“The BJD could be an ally for the BJP in case we fall short of numbers. Though the state saw BJP-BJD fight, both Mr Modi and CM Patnaik have not attacked each other vehemently, allowing elbow rooms to explore," said a BJP leader from the state who declined to be named.
On the other side, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is in touch with Patnaik and more so after cyclone Fani. Patnaik had asked Naidu for helping the state with manpower to rebuild electric infrastructure post the cyclone and BJD insiders said both CMs were in good touch with each other.
“Though the BJD has said that it will join any coalition for getting Odisha special status, and thereby more central funds, it will have an existential problem if it joins the BJP. The party that took a lot of BJD leaders, the party that gave a direct fight to BJD cannot be friends overnight," a BJD leader said from Bhubaneswar said. “Let’s wait till 23 May," he added.