For the first time in around two decades, the ruling
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha is finding the coming assembly and Lok Sabha polls an uphill task in the face of tough challenges from the BJP and the Congress, besides the discontentment within.
Naveen Patnaik-led regional party won four consecutive assembly elections since 2000 with its seat tally rising every time, but the poll scenario in the state is different this time.
The elections will be held in four phases: April 11, April 18, April 23 and April 29. The counting of votes will be done on May 23.
The poll scenario has changed drastically after the 2009 elections when BJD broke off an alliance with BJP. The regional party won 103 constituency seats while Congress won 27 seats and the saffron party had to let go with only six seats.
However, a decade later, the 2019 elections will be an acid test for ruling party chief Naveen Patnaik as he faces anti-incumbency from the opposition.
BJP and Congress have now regained strength in the state with disgruntled leaders from BJD leaving the party has come as a major setback, which once looked invincible.
BJP Odisha in-charge Arun Singh has claimed that the countdown of the Patnaik government has started.
BJP's optimism notwithstanding, BJD president and Chief Minister Patnaik, who is seeking re-election for the fifth term, claims his party will perform "very well" in both Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
The chief minister earlier announced his decision to contest from two assembly seats his home turf Hinjili in the southern Ganjam district and Bijepur in the western part of the state.
Western Odisha is considered important for the BJD as the region has five Lok Sabha and 35 assembly seats. Of the five Lok Sabha seats, BJD had won four in 2014 polls.
BJP stalwarts, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, have undertaken whirlwind tours of the state to boost their party's poll prospects.
The saffron party is also trying to attract known loyalists of the legendary Biju Patnaik, father of the current chief minister.
The recent induction of former MP Baijayant Panda and ex-minister Damodar Rout into the BJP is considered a part of this strategy. Both the leaders are from the coastal belt, home to around 68 assembly seats where the BJP is not so strong.
The key issues that will play a major role during the Assembly, as well as, Lok Sabha elections in 2019 will be that of farmer distress, increasing levels of sexual violence against women, government’s incompetency in returning money to chit fund depositors and anti-incumbency wave against the government.
Despite announcing the KALIA scheme (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) and various other developmental schemes for the state, the ruling party, BJD is still facing an anti-incumbency wave from the Opposition. Adding to the woes are senior party members leaving the party following disappointment.
The ruling party has also announced that the party will send 33 percent of
women to the parliament in the upcoming elections.
People leaving the BJD and joining other parties will have no impact on poll prospects of the ruling party, senior leaders from the party said adding the "good work" done by the government will have support among people.
After BJP’s performance in the recent panchayat elections in the state, the cadre is hopeful in taking on the ruling party in the state. With the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with party president Amit Shah's 'Mission 120 plus seats,' the saffron party is hopeful of winning a majority of the votes in the state. However, the party may face challenges with the selection of candidates against the BJD party.
On the other hand, after Congress' win in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections, the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) is of the opinion that it will change the fate of the party in the state, as well as, the country. The party still struggles with the infighting within the party, as well as, gaining the trust of the people in the state.
(With inputs from agencies) This is the 10th article of a series on a state-by-state deep look at the approaching general elections. Click here to read more: