One-sided contest

Print edition : November 27, 1999

THE Bharatiya Janata Party-Biju Janata Dal alliance tightened its hold on Orissa in a largely one-sided electoral tussle. It won 19 of the 21 seats, three up from its 1998 tally of 16. However, this does not reflect the full extent of the BJP-BJD's domin ance in terms of vote share. In 1998 there was a difference of almost eight percentage points between the Congress (I) (41 per cent) and the BJP-BJD (48.7 per cent). This year the difference between the Congress(I) (37.7 per cent) and the BJP-BJD (57.6 p er cent) rose sharply to 20 percentage points.

The dominance of the BJP-BJD was manifest in all regions of the State. The BJD won eight and the BJP two of the 11 seats in the coastal region. The Congress(I) won the remaining seat, two lower than the seats it won in 1998. The BJP-BJD made a clean swee p in western Orissa, a BJP stronghold. Of the six seats in this region, five went to the BJP and one to the BJD. Of the four seats in south Orissa, the BJP won two, the BJD one and the Congress (I) one.

The BJP-BJD combine clearly enjoyed overwhelming support among the upper castes. It fared considerably better than the Congress (I) among the Other Backward Classes. However, the Congress (I) still enjoys considerable support among the Scheduled Castes. There is growing support for the BJP-BJD among tribal communities, which were strong supporters of the Congress(I) at one time. The proportion of the tribal population is higher in Orissa than in most other States.

An interesting feature of the class profile in Orissa is that there is not much to distinguish among the top three groups as all of them overwhelmingly supported the BJP-BJD (about 60 per cent) over the Congress (I) (about 30 per cent). A different pictu re emerges among the 'very low' classes, which showed a greater level of support for the Congress (I). It is signficant that the Congress(I), despite its electoral defeat, enjoys a higher degree of support among the poorest sections. The difference in pr eferences does not show a graded pattern but a sharp distinction between the have-nots and the rest.

Despite the horrendous incident in which the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive, the CSDS survey reveals that the percentage of the electorate in Orissa which thinks that injustice had been done to Christians is only marginally different than the all-India average. This crime, which was allegedly committed by a person with links to the Sangh Parivar, did not prove electorally costly for the BJP. In fact, the BJP candidate won in the very constituency in which th e incident took place.

With Assembly elections coming up in the state, the BJP-BJD is placed in a very strong position. The Congress(I) unit in Orissa seems to be in disarray organisationally even though the Congress high command replaced J.B. Patnaik with Giridhar Gamang as C hief Minister.

The more interesting question before the Assembly elections will be the balance of power between the BJP and the BJD. Will the latter succeed in sustaining itself as a viable regional party or is it likely to succumb to the BJP?

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