Naveen Patnaik (Photo: PIB)
Naveen Patnaik (Photo: PIB)

Opinion | The changing narratives of Odisha elections

The ruling BJD is not getting a walkover in this election as it used to be earlier

For the last two decades, Odisha continued to defy national trends. While at the national level, power shifted from one political party to another, Odisha continued to be ruled by one regional political party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Perhaps after the Left Front government in West Bengal, no other state government has been so successful in retaining power. This assembly election has the potential to change that narrative due to several factors. However, four specific reasons could be attributed to this change of narratives in Odisha.

First, corruption as a variable influencing the decision of the voters has emerged as an important indicator of political change in Odisha. There was a perception that Naveen Patnaik government provides corruption-free governance. This perception helped BJD to retain a massive vote bank for a long time. People never suspected the leadership and the top leadership of BJD was also ruthless to leaders whose name surfaced in the media on corruption-related issues. But in the last five years, this perception has changed. The state government is considerably slow to act against leaders who are involved in corruption. Apart from some symbolic suspension, the tainted party leaders continue to be very much part of the party structure. Mining scam, chit fund scam, etc have dented the image of the state government.

Second, the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a dominant political force has also changed the political character of state. In the last three general elections, the ruling party always enjoyed the upper hand because of the absence of a strong political opposition. With the joining of many important regional leaders like Baijayant Panda, Bijoy Mohapatra and Damodar Rout, BJP has become a prominent force.

Third, the lack of opportunities to contest elections for the young aspirants in BJD has also increased the chances of rebellion in the party. The ruling party it seems is indifferent to these aspirations. There is a perception that in BJD, ticket distribution is not democratic but the same allegation is also there against the Congress and BJP. But this may hurt BJD more than the other two.

Fourth, politics over welfare programmes has reached a new height. The tussle between the centre and state with regard to some important welfare schemes in the last one year will now be a crucial determining factor in voting. The agrarian crisis in Odisha compelled the state government to implement KALIA scheme, a monetary incentive scheme for farmers. The use of Biju Yuva Bahini, the youth wing of the regional party and women self-help groups as voter mobilization machineries will also be tested in this election. The 2019 elections may also see the rise of women as a determining factor and the BJD may benefit from it as it has 33% reservation for women in parliamentary constituencies.

It will be interesting to see how people in western Odisha see Naveen Patnaik as their leader since he has chosen to contest from a second constituency named Bijepur in Bargarh district. It will certainly check the growing influence of BJP in that part of the state. Despite the advantages, it can be safely said that the ruling party is not getting a walkover in 2019 as it used to be earlier.

Gyanranjan Swain is a political analyst and assistant professor at Ravenshaw University, Cuttack.