Going by the numbers, it seems the Congress’ votes were transferred to the BJP in Odisha Lok Sabha polls
BJP managed to win 23 assembly seats to replace the Congress, which won just nine, as the main opposition party in the state
NEW DELHI: The upsurge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the three-tier panchayat elections in western Odisha in February 2017 was an eye opener for the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Subsequently, a year later, though the BJD won the Bijepur assembly seat in the by-election, the regional party had sensed the imminent threat.
In early 2019, BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik stunned the opposition and political observers by announcing that he will contest from two assembly constituencies, something he had not done in the last four elections. Patnaik decided to contest from Bijepur, in Bargarh parliamentary constituency, to stunt BJP’s growth in western Odisha, apart from his home turf, Hinjili, in southern Odisha.
So far, BJP’s presence had been limited to western Odisha, from where it had won eight out of the 10 assembly seats in 2014. Besides, tribal affairs minister Jual Oram had won the lone parliamentary seat from Sundergarh.
With the BJP shifting focus to Odisha and West Bengal in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2019 to compensate for any possible seat loss elsewhere in the country, the BJD was visibly worried. It prepared for a tougher battle, especially in western Odisha.
But, how did it play out? Patnaik fighting from western Odisha helped the party in the assembly elections, but the BJP swept all six parliamentary seats in the region, besides picking up the Bhubaneswar and Balasore parliamentary constituencies in coastal Odisha. However, with 112 out of the 146 seats, BJD handsomely won the assembly elections, which was held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP managed to win 23 seats to replace the Congress, which won just nine, as the main opposition party in the state.
The split voting for the assembly and general elections in Odisha has surprised political observers across the country, who believe that it was unique, but was also a sign of a maturing democracy.
Consider this: Though the BJP failed to win a single assembly seat in the Bargarh parliamentary constituency, which represents seven assembly seats (it had won two in 2014), BJP’s Suresh Pujari went on to win the parliamentary elections from this constituency.
While the BJD averaged 51% vote share in the seven assembly segments of Bargarh, its vote share dipped almost 10 percentage points to 41.45% in the parliamentary polls.
On the contrary, BJP’s vote share jumped almost 10 percentage points from 37% in the seven assembly constituencies to 46.6% in the parliamentary election.
In fact, the distinct pattern of voting in Odisha’s assembly and parliamentary elections was visible across the state. The BJP could not win a single assembly seat in the Bhubaneswar parliamentary constituency, yet ex-bureaucrat Aparajita Sarangi went on to win the Lok Sabha polls, with an over 2 percentage point lead in vote share over his BJD rival.
While the BJP improved its vote share in the parliamentary elections from 22% in 2014 to 38.4% in 2019, BJD’s vote share dipped marginally from 44.8% to 42.8%. It seems the Congress’ votes were transferred to the BJP in the parliamentary election, considering that Congress’ vote share almost halved from 26.4% in 2014 to 13.8% in 2019.
However, the BJP also gained significantly in the assembly elections with a 14.3 percentage point increase in its vote share from 18.2% in 2014 to 32.5% in 2019. Though the BJP could not convert the rise in vote share in the assembly election to seats, the invincibility of Naveen Patnaik is now a thing of the past as BJD looks more vulnerable than ever before.