Biju Janata Dal

For future bargains

Print edition : May 02, 2014

Odisha Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik addressing an election rally at Kaliabali in Ganjam district on April 8. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

Odisha Janmorcha leader Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who poses a challenge to the BJD. Photo: PTI

GOING by the ground reality in Odisha, it seems that the findings of opinion polls with regard to the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) performance in the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections may go wrong. The party, which is headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, is likely to play a crucial role in the post-election coalition formation at the Centre.

He had initially shown some interest in a possible alternative front comprising parties belonging to the non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party category when meetings were held in New Delhi, but he subsequently preferred to stay aloof and take advantage of a possible fractured verdict.

The BJD survived in Odisha politics by having the BJP as an alliance partner from 1998 to 2009. It helped the party win two Assembly elections consecutively, in 2000 and 2004. After snapping its ties with the BJP before the 2009 general election, it got into a seat-sharing arrangement with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India to win the elections.

This is the first time the BJD is going to the polls without an alliance or seat-sharing arrangement with any party. Although it has kept itself detached from all parties, it has its options open to join hands with the BJP in the State and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre in case it fails to win the Assembly elections, or become a partner in a non-Congress political formation at the Centre if it secures a majority in the State Assembly.

The BJD decimated the NCP much before the elections by inducting into its fold all four NCP legislators in the State Assembly. After deciding not to enter into any seat-sharing arrangement with the Left parties days before the announcement of the election schedule, the party attempted to have a seat-sharing arrangement with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which has a strong base in the tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj and Sundargarh districts. But the scenario soon changed when Shibu Soren, the national president of the JMM, opposed the seat-sharing proposal. The BJD cleverly admitted many prominent JMM leaders, including JMM State unit president and former Lok Sabha member Sudam Marandi, thereby strengthening its base in northern Odisha.

In his attempt to win more Lok Sabha seats and secure a majority in the State Assembly, the BJD president also brought to his party fold many prominent leaders of the Congress, the BJP and the CPI.

The BJD came to power in the State in 2000 by joining hands with the BJP when the people voted out the Congress, which had earned a bad name under the rule of Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik, now Assam Governor. It initially talked of fighting corruption. But in the aftermath of the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district in 2008, the party ended its partnership with the BJP and talked primarily of development.

From 2009 onwards, the BJD has indulged in Centre-bashing, primarily to keep its vote bank intact. It kept blaming the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre for allegedly neglecting the cause of Odisha in various fields. It also continued to demand special category State status for Odisha. The party even organised a rally in New Delhi to press its demand though the State did not fulfil the criteria for being accorded such a status.

Naveen Patnaik, the founder president of the BJD, which came into being in December 1997 and was named after his late father Biju Patnaik to retain the anti-Congress vote base, has no doubt succeeded in carrying his father’s legacy forward and winning elections by selling his father’s dream of a prosperous Odisha. But this time he has a new opponent: Pyarimohan Mohapatra, his one-time adviser and election manager. A Rajya Sabha member, Mohapatra heads the Odisha Janmorcha, a party he floated with the sole intention of challenging Naveen Patnaik. The BJD president had branded him a traitor for allegedly engineering a coup attempt against him in May 2012.

It is not Mohapatra alone who has launched a new party. Several parties have been launched in the State recently, including the Ama Odisha Party (AMO) led by J.B. Patnaik’s son-in-law Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, and the Samata Kranti Dal led by Braja Kishore Tripathy, a former Union Minister and Naveen Patnaik’s erstwhile party colleague.

Naveen Patnaik is confident of winning the elections this time. The Janmorcha has failed to gain any strength. Moreover, the AOP is likely to play a significant role in weakening the base of the Congress to the advantage of the BJD. The AOP was formed after Soumya Ranjan Patnaik was ousted from the Congress for anti-party activities.

Another factor that makes Naveen Patnaik confident is his success in preventing the BJP from entering into an alliance with the Janmorcha or other parties. By preventing such an alliance, Patnaik has given the BJP’s national leaders a hint that his party may be available for the NDA in the post-election situation.

Naveen Patnaik, however, had to face a major challenge this time. His party was flooded with more than 50,000 applications from people seeking the party ticket, and many BJD leaders turned rebels after being denied the ticket .

The BJD, which has managed to maintain its anti-Centre stand with a view to developing a strong regional identity, may win the 2014 elections. It has kept the Biju legacy alive by floating a large number of welfare schemes over the years named after the late leader.

In the 1998 general election, the BJD’s first trial of strength, the party won nine of the 12 seats it contested, while the BJP won seven of the nine seats it fought as per the seat-sharing arrangement between the two parties.

In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the BJD won 10 of the 12 seats it fought and the BJP all the nine it contested. In the February 2000 Assembly elections, the alliance bagged 106 of the total 147 seats, the BJD winning 68 of the 84 seats it contested and the BJP 38 of 63. In 2004, when Naveen Patnaik decided to lose one year of his term and hold the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously, the BJD won 11 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP seven, the Congress two and the JMM one. In the Assembly elections, the BJD-BJP alliance was able to win 93 of the 147 seats: the BJD 61 and the BJP 32. In 2009, when the Assembly elections were held along with the Lok Sabha elections, the BJD had seat-sharing arrangements with other parties, and its candidates won in as many as 103 seats.

Whether Naveen Patnaik’s promise to build the Odisha of his father’s dreams will help him win yet another election will be known when the votes are counted on May 16.

Prafulla Das

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