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BJP President Shah deliberately raised the issue of western Odisha’s neglect by the Naveen Patnaik regime. It was on this plank that the party had made its first forays into the western region in the mid-1980s. While it opened its account in the state assembly in 1985 by winning the Kamakhya Nagar seat its tally went up in 1990 when it bagged both Junagarh and Bonei seats and increased its share of votes from 1.5 to 3.56 percent. Even today eight of its 10 MLAs hail from the state’s western belt.

The severe drubbing that the BJP received at the hands of ruling BJD in the Bijepur assembly by-poll seems to have had a sobering effect on its leadership. It has made party president, Amit Shah, who had been talking about winning more than 120 assembly seats in Odisha, get off his high horse and set the party more realistic targets.

This was evident during his visit to the western Odisha districts of Kalahandi and Bolangir on April 4 and 5 when he avoided making any reference to his much talked about ‘Mission 120+’ at his public meeting in Bhawanipatna on the first leg of his tour. Quizzed by media persons and taunted by critics the day after he came up with a face-saving explanation at his next public meeting in Bolangir.  “I did not talk about it because we are going to win more seats than that
in the state,” he boasted but it was more than obvious that he was indulging in pre-poll rhetoric.

Sources in the BJP said that having made a frank assessment of the party’s organisational strength in the state, Shah has realized that it would be much more prudent for it to focus on western Odisha where it has strong roots compared to the coastal belt where lotus has never
been the symbol of choice for the people. “More importantly we are facing a serious threat from the BJD even in the western belt where after having done exceedingly well in the panchayat elections we failed to sustain the momentum and consequently suffered a humiliating defeat in Bijepur. We were also wiped out in the Attabira NAC polls.
“Hence Shah’s focus on consolidating our base in western Odisha appears to be right,” said a senior party leader. The clever leader that Shah is he deliberately raised the issue of western Odisha’s neglect by the Naveen Patnaik regime. It was on this plank that the party had made its first forays into the western region in the mid-1980s. While it opened its account in the state assembly in 1985 by winning the Kamakhya Nagar seat its tally went up in 1990 when it bagged both Junagarh and Bonei seats and increased its share of votes from 1.5 to 3.56 percent. Even today eight of its 10 MLAs hail from the state’s western belt.

But the saffron charge of western Odisha’s neglect by the Naveen Patnaik government is beginning to sound hollow as the party was BJD’s coalition partner in the state from 2000 to 2009, a period during which its own leaders did precious little for the region. Senior BJD leader and Rajya Sabha member, Prasanna Acharya said, “Our coalition government had senior BJP leaders like KV Singh Deo from western Odisha. What did they do for the area then? Everyone wants to play the western Odisha card but the people there are not fools. They will see
through the BJP’s game.”

He also made a pointed reference to BJP-led NDA government’s refusal to accept the demand for setting up a permanent High Court bench in western Odisha and include the Kosali-Sambalpuri language that is widely spoken in the region in the eighth schedule of the
constitution. “These are two major demands of the region that have not been conceded. So who is neglecting the area, we or they?” asked Acharya.

The sheen that the BJP had acquired in the state after winning a record 297 zila parishad seats in the last panchayat elections, a quantum jump from 36 in 2012, is beginning to wear off in the wake of Bijepur debacle with even dissidents from parties like Congress choosing BJD’s conch over the lotus.

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