In 2014, when the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls, it had managed to win only one Parliamentary seat in Odisha and just 10 seats in the Assembly polls in the state. Two-and-half-years later, the party, once dismissed as a “signboard party” by former CM Biju Patnaik, seems to have turned the tables on BJD that has been ruling Odisha for 17 years now. Of the 851 zilla parishad seats that went to the polls between February 13 and 21, BJP won nearly 306, almost 10 times its tally in 2012. The party has won the majority of Zila Parishad seats in the districts of Sambalpur, Bargarh, Bolangir and Deogarh, and tribal-dominated districts of Malkangiri and Mayurbhanj, once considered BJD bastions.
BJP has so far secured a majority in the zila parishad in eight of the 30 districts. It is expected to obtain a majority in three more, reportedly with some backdoor help from local Congressmen. Though the final results are yet to be declared, BJP is learnt to have wrested 190-odd seats from BJD and nearly 60 from Congress.
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Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who spearheaded BJP’s campaign, said, “The ground beneath BJD and Naveen Patnaik is shrinking. It is beginning of the end of BJD rule in Odisha.”
The results seem to have left CM Naveen Patnaik concerned when he told party legislators on Wednesday that BJP’s rise was a warning signal.
Some senior BJD leaders like Suryo Patro alleged that BJP and Congress forged a tactical alliance to defeat BJD in several places.
The allegations notwithstanding, few are aware of the scale of organisational work undertaken by the party in the state in the last two years. BJP added 30 lakh new members in the state through a missed-call programme and was able to appoint booth-level workers in at least 35,000 of the 92000 booths during the panchayat polls. In the past one year, the party organised at least 50,000 meetings across the state. “Our workers distributed leaflets at these meetings stressing how a poor man was forced to pay bribes to enjoy benefits of Indira Awas Yojana or old age allowance. While Congress leaders were busy fighting each other, we were busy projecting ourselves as an alternative to BJD,” said a party leader.
State Congress president Prasad Harichandan said his party could not fight the money power of BJD and BJP, but several party leaders concede that Congress is almost finished.
A series of incidents and intra-party differences in the past one year too signalled BJD’s slide. In Malkangiri, where Japanese Encephalitis killed over 100 kids between August and November last year, BJD faced one of its worst poll debacles. In Kalahandi, where the heart-rending image of one Dana Majhi carrying the body of his wife on foot embarrassed Naveen, BJD faced a total rout and BJP won 34 of the 36 Zila Parishad seats. In Mayurbhanj, where the BJD unit was riddled with factionalism, BJP won 49 of the 56 seats.