Congress in Freefall, BJD and BJP Looking For Gains

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With Congress, the main opposition party in the state, in complete disarray both ruling Biju Janata Dal and BJP are trying to poach upon its vote-bank. The party, which is more successful in grabbing Congress votes, is likely to make significant gains in 2019. On the other hand, there still some die-hard optimists in the Congress who think that the party will pull itself together and present a united face ahead of the big battle.                                                                                                      

Ironical as it may seem both ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and BJP appear to be eyeing the Congress vote-bank as they fine-tune their strategy for the next general elections with the state’s main opposition party in a free fall.In fact, the overwhelming victory of BJD in the recent Bijepur by-poll is being attributed to its success in poaching on Congress votes. BJD candidate, Rita Sahu, wife of former Congress MLA, Subal Sahu, who had joined the party ahead of the by-poll alongwith a large number of her husband’s supporters, trounced her nearest BJP rival, Ashok Panigrahi by a margin of nearly 42000 votes.

The ruling party, which wrested the seat from the Congress, saw its vote share in the constituency jumping to 56.78 per cent from 31.88 per cent in 2014 Assembly elections while the Congress votes nosedived to a meagre 5.65 percent from 32.15 percent in the last polls. The BJP, too, gained with its vote share going up from 18.11 percent to 33.53 percent but it was not enough to get it anywhere near the BJD.

The Congress, with 16 MLAs in the state assembly, has been on going downhill in the state for some time, thanks to the party’s ever escalating internal war with rebels demanding the ouster of Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, Prasad Harichandan.  With no signs of a let up in Congress’s factional feuds the chances of party putting up a creditable performance in elections in the near future, let alone making a comeback in the state where it has been out of power for the last 18 years, appear remote.

Party leaders agree that the situation has made its MLAs vulnerable to poaching and that both BJP and BJD could take advantage of the crisis in the Congress. “There is no denying that a number of party MLAs are unhappy with the prevailing state of affairs. With our vote base crumbling I guess 60 percent of it could go to BJP because people are also dissatisfied with chief minister, Naveen Patnaik,” said a senior Congress leader.

All eyes in the Congress are now set on AICC president, Rahul Gandhi’s decision. Sources said there was a possibility of things taking a turn for the better in the state Congress if the AICC president comes up with a strategy that could inspire confidence among its leaders about a turnaround in the fortunes of the party. However, the leaders campaigning for replacement of Harichandan with Niranjan Patnaik are likely to be disappointed with Rahul learnt to be less than happy with the leader whose credibility has been put on the line with his brother, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik being elected to the Rajya Sabha on a BJD ticket.

While there is speculation that Rahul, despite the crisis gripping his party, could have a soft approach towards the BJD to keep the BJP at bay, chief minister, Naveen Patnaik would also find it in the interest of his party that Congress, though weakened, remains alive in the state. “ Neither do we want the Congress to be completely decimated in the state nor is that likely to happen for it is a very old national party,” said a senior BJD leader while admitting that both BJP and BJD were bound to gain if the Congress weakens further. “But we will gain more as we have a much better base in the state compared to the BJP,” he said.

However, BJP MLA, Pradeep Purohit felt his party stood to gain more from Congress votes. “Bijepur was a different story because factors at play in the constituency were different. In the general elections Congress loyalists dissatisfied with their party and looking for an alternative would opt for us as they are unhappy with Naveen’s policies,” he averred.

Sources said Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik was keen to ensure that Congress votes don’t shift to the BJP as this could give the latter entry into the coastal belt where it does not have a presence at the moment. “Congress with as many as four MLAs in the coastal belt has always been a force there but BJP has hardly ever been a force there. The chief minister would do anything to keep BJP out of the area,” said a BJD leader.

Meanwhile the tug-of-war between the BJD and BJP, who would be fighting practically a one to one battle in 2019,  has intensified following state government’s announcement to implement the “Ama Ghare LED Light” scheme which is being seen as a counter to Modi government’s much-hyped Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana which aims at providing free LPG connections to poor women.

Under the state government’s programme, each poor household will be provided with four Led bulbs free of cost.  The BJP, which is trying to make a comeback after a humiliating defeat in the Bijepur by election, has smelled politics behind the move accusing the Naveen Patnaik government of being a copycat, trying to copy each of Modi government’s schemes.

A senior BJD leader, however, refuted the charge. “There is no politics in it. The state has been promoting energy efficiency for last six years in government offices and street lighting through use of energy efficient lighting systems. To optimize the benefits of the move we need to generate awareness among the people. Hence we have introduced the scheme and made a budgetary provision of Rs 125 crore for this.”

Besides promoting the ‘Ama Ghare LED Light’ campaign, the state government has decided to give a push to schemes like Biju Gram Jyoti Yojana, Biju Saharanchal Vidyutikaran Yojana and central schemes such as  Saubhagya,  Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY)  and  Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana ( RGGVY) in which the state government has a share.

The tussle between BJP and BJD over ‘Ama Ghare LED Light’ scheme with around more than 50 lakh target beneficiaries is being seen as significant in terms of vote- bank politics with both parties having launched preparations for the 2019 general elections.  The tug of war over the issue is reminiscent of their war over the Re 1 rice scheme that benefits around 52 lakh people.  Pratisruti Plus-April1-15-2018 

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