NEW DELHI: New Delhi: About 32 million voters will exercise their franchise simultaneously in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha across four phases, beginning 11 April, the Election Commission of India (EC) said on Sunday. And when Odisha goes to polls next month, there is a lot at stake for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress play catch-up.
In the 147-member state assembly, the BJD has 117 MLAs. The party had won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. A win in 2019 will give BJD chief and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik his fifth term in office. Any shortfall will be seen as the BJD’s dwindling popularity in the state, said experts, but argued that people will still vote Patnaik back despite some anti-incumbency.
“BJD is still the leader though BJP has improved its strength and the Congress is regrouping in the state following their victory in neighbouring Chhattisgarh," said Jayant Mahapatra, a political analyst in Odisha.
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BJD leaders said that notwithstanding the BJP’s surge, the regional party will do better. “We have more than two-thirds majority in assembly. Our CM is a man of action and you will see people’s faith in us. The tally in the assembly will grow further," said BJD leader Anup Sai.
The state government has done a lot of work “for farmers, for the poor and for women, and they will support us as has been the case for the last 19 years," Sai said, and added: “BJP is spreading misinformation, which people will not count while voting."
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However, the BJP’s growth in the state over the last few years is quite visible, more so after the 2017 panchayat polls, when the party’s performance, aided by consistent ground work done by two Odia central ministers—petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and tribal affairs minister Jual Oram—got national attention. Pradhan and Oram though did not enjoy a traditional political base, they have worked consistently over the past five years to improve the party’s chances in both the coastal belt and tribal-dominated western Odisha. But for the Congress, it’s about staying relevant.
“The 2017 panchayat polls have given BJP some confidence, as it had put up a challenge to the ruling BJD," said Gyan Ranjan Swain, another political analyst, and professor at Ravenshaw University in Cuttack. “But CM Naveen Patnaik’s clean image and connect with people is a huge positive for BJD."