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Friday, April 18, 2014

Is BJD Citadel In Coastal Odisha Fraying At The Edges?

By Manas Sahu | INNLIVE

ODISHA ELECTIONS The signs are ominous for Naveen Patnaik. As if the 75% polling in the first phase of elections on 10 April was not enough, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is now staring at another bumper polling in the second phase on Thursday. If anything, the turnout in the second round appears to be even bigger than the first. 

While giving out the figure of 70% on Thursday evening, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Mona Sharma was at pains to emphasise that it was based on reports that had come in with an hour or so still to go for voting and thus was subject to upward revision. 
In what gives an indication of the possible extent of this upward revision, the initial figure of 67% quoted on the evening of 10 April was revised to 75% the next day after all the figures came in from the ground. By that reckoning, the polling this time could go beyond the 75% recorded in the previous round.

If the 75% polling in the first phase had caused concern in the BJD camp, the spectre of another heavy turnout in this round is causing positive consternation. To put things in perspective, the polling in this round in 2009 was just 66%. Much as the party would like to explain away this quantum jump of 9% in terms of the surge of new voters this time, it knows in its heart of hearts that this supposed surge cannot account for such a big leap in the percentage of polling. 

After all, it is not as if this was the first election where 18+ young men and women were voting for the first time. The only plausible explanation thus is that the high turn-out is a reflection of the yearning for change sweeping large swathes of the land. The BJD is worried because the stakes are particularly high for it in the areas that went to polls on Thursday. 

The party had won nine out of the 11 Lok Sabha seats — with another going to its then ally CPI — and an unbelievable 69 out of the 77 assembly in this round in the 2009 elections, making it the unquestioned bastion of the BJD. Contrast this with what happened in the earlier round in 2009 — in which the BJD won just five out the 10 Lok Sabha seats and 34 of the 70 assembly seats (less than 50% in either case) up for grabs in the previous election. 

The part that went to polls on Thursday comprises the whole of the politically crucial coastal Odisha, besides a few other districts. The results of the 2009 polls, the first after the BJD split with the BJP, established the former as the dominant political force in these parts. BJD’s dominance of coastal Odisha was so complete that the uncharitable called it a party of the coast. 

Much to the chagrin of the opposition parties, the domination did not show any sign of slackening — till recently that is. Of late, the BJD citadel has shown definite signs that it is fraying at the edges, if not exactly crumbling. And the one factor that has brought about his change is the sudden surge of the BJP, riding the Modi wave, in an area where it has never really been a force to reckon with. 

But the saffron party knows this surge would not get it too many seats in these parts. “Given our organisational strength in coastal Odisha, we know for sure that the increased vote share would not in itself fetch us too many assembly seats. But we also know that we will essentially be eating into the BJD vote, something that could pave the way for victory of the Congress candidates at many places,” says a senior BJP leader. 

The external threat in the form of a resurgent BJP, however, is nothing compared to the bigger threat the BJD is facing – from within. With a host senior party leaders, including seven-time MLA and former finance minister Prafulla Ghadai, and sitting MLAs being denied the ticket this time and recent recruits from other parties or the world of entertainment being given the tickets instead, rebellion is brewing in the BJD like never before. 

Already, party supremo Naveen Patnaik has had to expel sitting Kandhmal MP Rudramadhab Ray and scores of district level functionaries for ‘anti-party activities’ in a desperate bid to contain the damage. But that has only brought the simmering dissension within the ruling party out in the open. There are at least 15 Assembly seats where the rebellion brewing within the party could singe the chances of the party’s official candidates. 

If that happens, the BJD could have its parliamentary strength curtailed (it currently has 14 MPs in the Lok Sabha) and its steamrolling majority in the Assembly reduced to a bare majority or even a few seats short of the half way mark of 74. This would make his next government highly vulnerable to dissidence and manipulation, not exactly a welcome proposition for someone who has got used to lording over the party and the government. 

It would also make Naveen’s policy of ‘equidistance’ from the Congress and BJP untenable and he would have little option but to have some kind of a working arrangement with the new government at the Centre after the elections.
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