BJP Focuses on Odisha, UP and Bengal By-poll Challenge For Major Parties


After being postponed thrice the assembly by-poll in Pipili is finally taking place. It is both an opportunity and a challenge for the major parties, especially BJP and the Biju Janata Dal. While the latter remains confident about retaining the seat the former, led by union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who has also been given charge of UP assembly polls by the saffron leadership, is equally determined to upset BJD’s apple cart. It is going to be a fascinating contest with stakes high for all the parties which will also be facing municipal and panchayat polls within a year’s time.

Political temperature in the state has shot up with major parties in the campaign mode for the thrice postponed Pipili assembly by-poll. The by-poll, which will be followed by municipal and panchayat elections in the state, are an opportunity for the parties to test their popularity. The result is bound to impact their performance in the local elections that will follow. Besides they will also set the stage for them to prepare for the general elections in 2024.                                                   Though the main contest will be between the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is now the main opposition party in the state, the Congress, despite its depleted support base, is still capable of cutting some the votes of either of these parties. Considering importance of the by-poll the three main contestants have declared the list of their star campaigners. While BJD’s campaign will be led by party president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik followed by leaders like Pranab Prakash Das, Pinaki Mishra, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, Debi Prasad Mishra, Sanjay Das Burna, Maheshwar Mohanty, Pratap Deb and Samir Ranjan Dash the BJP will bank mainly on the popularity and charisma of union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan who has been the face of the party in the state for over a decade now.                                                                              Other saffron leaders to join the campaign in Pipili will be railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, tribal veteran and union minister Bisweswar Tudu, former union ministers Jual Oram and Pratap Sarangi, state BJP president Samir Mohanty, Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi and BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra who had contested the last Lok Sabha election from Puri unsuccessfully.             The Congress campaign will be led by party’s state in-charge A Chella Kumar, Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik, veteran Narasingha Mishra, tribal stalwart Pradeep Majhi, former PCC president Prasad Harichandan, MLAs Suresh Kumar Routray, Santosh Singh Saluja and Mohammad Muquim and senior leaders such as Jaydev Jena and Ram Chandra Khuntia.                          The list of  the star campaigners of these parties is indicative of the importance they are attaching to this by-poll which has been occasioned by the death of former minister and BJD veteran Pradeep Maharathy. While the BJD has made Maharathy’s son Rudra Pratap its candidate from the constituency in an obvious bid to take advantage of the sympathy factor the BJP, which has fielded Ashrit Pattanayak is equally keen to end the ruling party’s long reign in Pipili.                 What is significant is that the by-poll is being held at a time when BJP and BJD are engaged in a fierce turf war in the state and the saffron party has also made some major moves at the national level including giving union minister Dharmendra Pradhan the charge of managing the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh next year. UP is a key state for the BJP. Not only the fate of the party but also its top leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is an MP from the state, hinges on the outcome of UP polls which preparations have begun in full swing. Pradhan, thus, will be managing the Pipili by-poll as well as BJP’s campaign in UP where star campaigners will include the Prime Minister himself.                                                            The saffron party, which is keen to improve its performance in Odisha which is one of the key states for the party in eastern India, is also keeping a close watch on the developments in West Bengal and Punjab. While in Bengal it has been jolted by the defection of former union minister Babul Supriyo and expects more desertions it is hopeful of improving its performance in Punjab next year following the ouster of Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief minister of the state. The Captain having openly expressed his dissatisfaction at the way he was shown the door by the Congress leadership is being seen as a rebel who could be wooed by the BJP which had broken ties with the Akalis in the wake of 2019 elections.

The saffron party is equally hopeful of doing better in Odisha and hence will be focusing on the Pipili by-poll in a big way. Political analysts believe that both BJP and Congress will try their best to turn the by-poll into a mini referendum on the perform of Naveen Patnaik government which has been in power in the state for more than four decades. The leaders of the two major parties believe that they can nail the ruling party down on issues like growing atrocities against women, continuing Maoist violence and the resentment among farmers over the government’s alleged failure to procure their paddy. They will, however, find it extremely difficult to prove any of these charges against the Patnaik government.

While the overall law and order situation in the state is much better than many other states of the country the chief minister has taken the bold step of bringing all the departments including his own Home department under the ambit of Mo Sarkar, a transformative administrative programme aimed at bringing the government closer to people, making it more transparent and efficient. In fact, the programme began with the Home department with chief minister personally seeking feedbacks from common people about their experience at police stations. With Patnaik himself taking the initiative the image of the police changed almost overnight. The men in khaki not only became more efficient in dealing with cases but were also found to be behaving more politely with complainants.                 The overall impact of Mo Sarkar on the administration has been amazing. With police force becoming more efficient the war against the left wing ultras intensified yielding immediate results. In the last one year or so many senior Maoist leaders have either been arrested or have surrendered. There has been drastic fall in Maoist insurgency in the state. Hence the charge of state having failed in curbing the Maoist menace does not wash.                                                                 Similarly, the allegation of government failing to procure the paddy of farmers, triggering resentment among them, has been brought by opposition leaders solely with the purpose of embarrassing the ruling party. However, the reality is completely different. The government, which has introduced the token system of procurement to streamline the process, took all possible steps to ensure that genuine farmers sold their stocks at approved prices without any hassle. However, vested interests, who sought to make profit by resorting to unfair means were discouraged. It is such elements, who had over the years got used to dictating terms to farmers in their respective areas, who are bringing the charge of failure on the part of the government and consequent resentment among the farmers. But their nefarious designs have been exposed now.                                            Hence, the opposition will find it extremely difficult to corner the ruling BJD over such issues while campaigning for the Pipili by-poll. On the other hand, the BJD will be seeking votes on its performance which speaks for itself. The party will also bank heavily on the ever growing popularity of chief minister Naveen Patnaik who a few months ago had announced projects worth Rs.68 crore for the development of Pipili-Delang area in a widely appreciated move.                                             Patnaik has always been associated with development which remains his trump card. The credibility of his government has been further enhanced following its all-out war against corruption. Consequently, the BJD always has an edge over its rivals. This has been proved in successive elections. The party led by Naveen Patnaik has an enviable electoral record. Apart from general elections it has also been winning bye-elections consistently. Pipili is unlikely to be an exception but the BJP remains hopeful and will do its best to upset the ruling party’s apple cart.