Odisha

BJP gains in panchayat polls

Print edition : March 31, 2017

Women wait to vote in the panchayat election, at Tangiapada village in Khurda district on February 21. Photo: PTI

The Sangh Parivar’s Odisha project seems to have finally started yielding results 67 years after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) sent a small team of dedicated workers from Maharashtra to work in Cuttack. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scored significant victories in the recent panchayat elections in the State, where the party has emerged as a strong opposition, eight years after the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ended its alliance with the saffron party.

Of the 846 zilla parishad seats, the BJD bagged 473 compared with 651 of a total of 851 seats in 2012; the BJP won 297 as against 36 in 2012; the Congress got 60, down from 128 seats.

The BJP’s success is attributed primarily to the anti-incumbency factor the BJD faced in the wake of the mining and chit fund scams and the irregularities in the distribution of digitised ration cards.

Some recent incidents that weakened the BJD’s prospects included the death of many malnourished Juang tribal children in Jajpur, the Dana Majhi episode in Kalahandi where a tribal man had to carry his dead wife’s body from hospital to home, the Gumudumaha firing in Kandhamal in which at least five persons belonging to Dalit and tribal communities died, and the Japanese encephalitis epidemic in Malkangiri that claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

Infighting in the BJD and the Congress also helped the BJP. The Congress has witnessed a steady decline despite changing the State leadership at least six times since 2000, and a group of senior leaders, backed by party legislators, has sought yet another change in leadership. In a bid to restore people’s faith in his party and the government, Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik went on a whirlwind tour, addressing meetings, announcing new schemes and inaugurating projects in different districts before the State Election Commission issued the notification for holding panchayat elections.

The BJP launched a massive campaign by engaging several Central Ministers, including the two who hail from the State, apart from inviting the Chief Ministers of neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand to campaign.

Buoyed by its performance, the BJP has started recruitment drives to strengthen its organisation in urban areas across the State, where civic body elections are due next year. The Sangh Parivar politicians have also chalked out a grand plan, Mission 2019, for the next general elections.

In 2014, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly saw the BJD win 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and 117 Assembly seats, while the BJP bagged one Lok Sabha seat and 16 Assembly seats; the Congress won 16 Assembly seats.

The BJD bagged around 90 lakh votes and the Congress 55 lakh, while the BJP garnered 35 lakh votes. With the BJD putting up its least impressive performance in any election since it came to power in 2000, the BJP is working hard to strengthen its base.

The RSS has divided Odisha into regions—“Purva Pranta” (eastern or coastal part) and “Paschima Pranta” (western or interior part), and apart from the BJP’s units at the State, district and block levels, the Sangh Parivar has wings for propaganda and publicity, apart from outfits to take up the cause of the working class, teachers, lawyers, doctors, consumers, tribal people, women and youths.

The RSS has shakhas (branches) in all 6,200-odd gram panchayats in the State, with around 15 people in each branch. The Sangh Parivar also has one full-time worker in each of the 100-odd tehsils in the State.

Besides, there are more than 600 Shishu Mandir and Vidya Mandir schools across the State affiliated to Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of the RSS. Most of these schools were provided land, or the land acquired by them was regularised, in the 2000-2009 period when the BJP-BJD alliance ruled Odisha.

Above all, the BJP and all those associated with its supporting organisations make full use of social media. At least 350 monitored WhatsApp groups are active in Odisha now, with each having about 200 users. Facebook and Twitter too are being used for the party’s promotion and campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with infighting, with slim chances of revival in the near future, and a shocked BJD is engaged in serious introspection. Patnaik has announced that the party will work harder and get reconnected with the people to return to power in 2019 by virtue of good work. The BJD is also planning a drastic organisational overhaul at all levels to win a fifth consecutive term.

Prafulla Das

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