In Odisha, Narendra Modi is considered a strong PM who gave a befitting reply to Pakistan

Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Amitabh TiwariUpdated: May 08, 2019, 06:37 PM IST

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph:(PTI)

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Odisha, which has exhibited similar voting patterns in the last three polls, is openly saying that we want Narendra Modi at the Centre and Naveen Patnaik in the state.

The fate of thousands of candidates in Odisha has been sealed in EVM machines. The state witnessed simultaneous elections for both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha in four phases from April 11 to April 29.  

The triangular contest, including the Congress, has left political pundits scratching their heads in what is being termed a different election this time.

Nabina, as chief minister Naveen Patnaik is fondly called, is facing an uphill election in 2019, battling 19 years of anti-incumbency and a resurgent BJP.

There is a frenzy about Modi in the state; the Balakot air strike 2.0 has made him a hero among the youth. The state, which has exhibited similar voting patterns in the last three polls, is openly saying that we want Modi at the Centre and Nabina in the state.

Odisha is ranked 25th on the country’s human development index (HDI). It’s BPL families account for 1.5 times the national average. Roughly, 82 per cent of the population avails of the Rs 1 per kg rice scheme.  

Corruption exists in all departments, while the condition of hospitals is poor - the image of a man carrying his dead wife on his shoulders is still fresh in people’s minds.

Despite all this, Naveen Patnaik has been voted for continuously by the people. Intelligentsia in urban centres like Bhubaneswar criticise him, but don’t go out to vote. His health is a big issue, but voters don’t seem to mind.

People are not asking questions about who his successor will be. Nor is the opposition raising this issue, lest it creates a sympathy wave in his favour.

The Chief Minister is a case study. He was parachuted, doesn’t know Odiya, prefers working through bureaucrats and is considered a God who has been sent to take people out of distress. He has crushed dissent — Pyari Babu, Bijoy Mohapatra, Dilip Ray, Baijayant Panda and Damodar Rout are shining examples.

He feels people vote for Naveen and not the candidate. He changed 17 out of 21 Lok Sabha candidates this time, a record in itself. He is considered revengeful by opponents. In a bid to deny Bijoy Mohapatra entry into the Assembly, it is alleged that he gave ticket to a 82-year-old, who was already in the hospital.

The BJP tasted blood in the panchayat elections in 2017, when its vote share almost doubled. Nabina didn’t campaign in those elections, leading to doubts about his health.

That is why this time, BJD strategists ensured that he campaigns in a bus so that people see him hale and hearty. A video of his fitness regime was also released, which backfired.

BJP lost the momentum gained during panchayat polls, mainly due to the unpopularity of Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan among the party rank and file. He is considered arrogant. To negate his unpopularity and push BJP’s chances, Jay Panda, who is popular among the young and educated, was inducted and made vice-president.

BJP poached leaders from the BJD left right and centre. Around 85 senior BJD leaders have joined BJP, many of them awarded with tickets to both Assembly and parliamentary elections.

BJP has successfully projected itself as an alternative to BJD. The contest is now between the two parties. The saffron party, as per opinion polls, is expected to win 12-14 Lok Sabha seats in the state. This translates to 48-56 seats in the Vidhan Sabha, going up to 72. The historical Lok Sabha to Vidhan Sabha multiple for BJP is 6.

Odisha has never witnessed split voting. The party which wins in the Lok Sabha usually goes on to win the Vidhan Sabha elections as well. People mostly press for the same symbol button twice, except in some urban areas like Puri and Cuttack.

Congress and BJP usually score well in the Lok Sabha, as compared to the Assembly, because of the national character of parties. The rural population may find it difficult to differentiate between the two separate EVMs for Parliament and the assembly. In some booths, the Lok Sabha EVM is kept first and the Assembly second, and vice versa. This presents a unique situation.

The state is similar to Chhattisgarh, at least in the western part. Farm loan waiver and high MSP for paddy were a hit with the public. But the Congress failed to capitalise. Internal fighting and delay in announcement of tickets could cost the party heavily.

BJD has benefited from split of votes in the last three elections. The anti-BJD votes is captured by both the BJP and Congress. This time, Naveen was seen as struggling under pressure for the first time. BJD candidates who threatened to quit if denied tickets were accommodated, some of whom were accused of involvement in the chit fund scam.

To negate anti-incumbency, Navin introduced the Kalia scheme, which disbursed funds to farmers. Many have got the first instalment, but several others have not, leading to resentment. There were allegations that money was given only to BJD workers. The Election Commission stopped the second instalment, adding fuel to the fire.

BJP is banking on the Modi magic. In 2014, while most of the country was gripped by the Modi wave, Odisha remained untouched.

Modi did address just one rally in the state but people did not quite know him. This time, it’s different. He is considered a strong PM who gave a befitting reply to Pakistan. His images splash through all State-owned petrol pumps, which has helped his cause. The party hopes to break into BJD’s citadel and compensate partly for losses expected in the Hindi heartland. 

Odisha has also witnessed unique alliances on a seat by seat basis. There were reports of Congress and BJP candidates making a deal to swap votes on many seats. 

In the end, it may well boil down to rebels, party men sabotaging prospects and influencers. If BJP wins maximum seats in the Lok Sabha, there could be surprises in the Assembly as well. It is safe to discount the possibility of different winners in the two elections.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)