An unequal alliance in Orissa

Print edition : April 01, 2000
OLIVER HEATH

IN a largely one-sided affair, the Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine romped home to a comfortable majority by winning 106 of the 147 seats in the Orissa Legislative Assembly. The alliance's combined vote share is 47.7 per cent. The Congress (I), which was in government, dropped 5.3 percentage points in its vote share, which translated to a net loss of 54 seats. This left it with a total of just 26. The BJD and the BJP retained 45 of the 55 seats that the Janata Dal and the BJP had won in 19 95. In addition they picked up 54 seats from the Congress (I) and seven from others.

However, in many ways it is surprising that the BJD-BJP alliance did not do better than it did. The timing of the elections was perfect for a landslide victory for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The good showing of the BJD-BJP combine in the Lok Sabha elections, the incumbency factor that worked against the Congress(I), and the devastation that the December cyclone wreaked all meant that a haul of 140 seats or so was not an unrealistic possibility. In this light, then, the Congress(I) was proba bly lucky to escape a more severe punishment.

Between the two NDA partners in the State, the victory of the BJD was more emphatic than that of the BJP. Out of the 84 seats that the BJD contested, it won 68, giving it a 'strike rate' of 81. The BJP won just 38 out of 62, which means a much lower stri ke rate of 61. Similarly, the BJD's vote share in the constituencies that it contested was 51.2 per cent, compared to the BJP's 40 per cent.

The disparity between the performances of the two parties has much to do with how successfully votes were transferred from one party to the other within the alliance. On the whole, NDA voters preferred the BJD to the BJP. When asked which party they woul d prefer to form the government, 29 per cent preferred the BJP and 38 per cent the BJD. This trend seems to have given the BJD an advantage within the alliance. As was the case in Haryana, BJP supporters were more willing to vote for their alliance partn er than the other way round. BJP supporters gave BJD candidates just three percentage point fewer votes than they gave BJP candidates. The disparity was much greater in the case of BJD supporters, who gave the BJP 23 percentage point fewer votes than BJD . In the light of this, BJD leader Naveen Patnaik must surely regret not striking a harder bargain at the seat-sharing talks. The sharing arrangement in Orissa is unusual in the sense that the proportion of seats that was contested by each party in the N DA was exactly the same in the Assembly elections as it had been in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJD is the only regional ally of the BJP which did not improve its proportion of seats contested for the Assembly.

The Congress(I) was probably on a losing wicket before the cyclone hit the State, as was evident from the drubbing it received in the Lok Sabha elections, and it is unlikely that its handling of the disaster relief won it new votes. Overall, only 17 per cent of the respondents were very satisfied with the work that the Orissa Government did in the aftermath of the cyclone, and 25 per cent were not at all satisfied. This approval rating is much lower than that for the Central Government, with which 35 pe r cent were very satisfied.

When the respondents were asked to name which government or agency had done the best relief work, the Orissa Government came off in an even worse light. Only 5 per cent of those polled thought that it had done the best relief work. Both non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Central Government got higher scores, with 6 per cent and 19 per cent respectively, but the surprise leader was the Andhra Pradesh Government, which 29 per cent said did the best job.

The community profile of BJD voters is quite unusual for a Janata formation: it is dominated by the upper castes. This is probably a legacy from the State Janata Dal unit led by Biju Patnaik, which was the only Janata Dal unit in the country to oppose th e Mandal Commission report. This gives the BJD a profile very similar to that of the BJP. Overall, they are both strong in the same sections of society, drawing many more votes from the upper castes than from the Scheduled Castes and Muslims. The high pr oportion of Scheduled Tribes voting for the BJP compared to the BJD is largely explained by the fact that the tribal people are mainly located in the areas where the BJP contested. If their voting behaviour is examined according to which party contested , then they actually give more or less the same degree of support to the BJP and the BJD.

The profile of the Congress (I) vote base is the opposite of that of the BJD-BJP; it is stronger among the lower castes and Muslims than it is among the upper castes.

In terms of class, the BJP does best among the rich whereas the BJD is the strongest among the middle class. There is not much deviation among Congress(I) voters, although the party is noticeably weak among the highest class. Education also shows a patte rn similar to that of class. The Congress(I) support base is bottom-heavy, BJD voters are concentrated in the middle class, and the BJP is the strongest at the top. Interestingly, the BJP is also relatively strong among the very low classes and the unedu cated people. These people are mainly small-scale agriculturists, such as cultivators or tenant farmers.

Overall, there is a fair amount of overlap between the support bases for the BJD and the BJP. However, there is also a hidden danger. Because they both vie for the support of the same sort of people there is a distinct possibility that one party will eve ntually displace the other. Although the BJD is dominant at the moment, given time there is a possibility that the BJP could swallow it up, as it did in the case of its allies in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

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