Naveen’s Popularity Soars Ahead of 2019 Battle

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 The recent by-poll for a zila parishad seat saw the three major parties of the state sweating it out. But ultimately ruling BJD snatched away the seat from BJP. The circumstances were difficult but chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s magic worked. The victory comes as yet another proof of Naveen’s popularity and is an indication that his party is on the right track.

Irrespective of what critics may say chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s popularity in the state remains intact. He has proved it yet again with ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) snatching away the Bijatala Zilla Parishad seat from the BJP. Ruling party’s splendid victory has strengthened its hold on the state’s tribal belt while weakening BJP’s grip. This augurs well for Naveen and his party ahead of the 2019 general elections.

For the BJP it is bad news coming in the wake of its Rourkela MLA, Dillip Ray resigning from both the legislative assembly and from the primary membership of the party. Rourkela is part of tribal dominated Sundergarh district.

The BJP had won the ZP seat by an impressive margin in 2017.  What is important is that in the Parishad polls last year, the BJP had routed the BJD in the area even though the ruling party has all the nine Assembly seats in Mayurbhanj.

The victory tasted sweeter for the BJD as the party had been facing a leadership crisis after its local MP Ramachandra Hansdah virtually missing from active politics after being jailed in the chit fund case. Though he was released on bail earlier this year he has not been very active. Even former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Sudam Marandi, who had joined BJD and been made a minister for some time, has lost much of his clout in the district.

The BJP had tom-tomed its Zilla Parishad performance after relegating the Congress to the third position in the state in 2017. Subsequently, BJP President Amit Shah had launched the party’s mission ‘120 plus’ (in the 147-member Assembly).

However, BJP state president Basant Panda said, “The Zilla Parishad elections will have no impact on the morale of our party. The Parishad and the general elections are fought on different issues.” Another BJP leader, however, differed. “The defeat will certainly have an impact. The BJD will have an upper hand in the tribal belt now,” he said.

The Sangh Parivar, through its different outfits including the BJP, hase been focusing on the tribal belt for the last three decades. As BJD’s poll partner between 1998 and 2009, the BJP had contested bulk of the tribal dominated seats both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

 

In 2014 elections, the BJP had won 10 assembly seats (including Dillip Ray from Rourkela) in the 147-member State Assembly and the tribal dominated Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat, one of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Of the BJP’s 10 MLAs, seven are from tribal-dominated districts. The party’s lone Lok Sabha MP, Union Tribal Welfare Minister Jual Oram had won the Sundargarh seat by a thin margin of 19,000. Dillip Ray’s contribution to Oram’s victory could be gauged from the fact that the Rourkela MLA had won the Assembly seat by securing over 59,000 votes.

With BJD on a high the BJP is trying to shore up its base in the state by organizing the visits of senior leaders from the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the state on December 24 and address a rally at Khurda in the coastal belt which is considered to be the bastion of ruling BJD. The BJP will highlight the issue of “Odia pride”.

Senior BJP leader Biswa Bhusan Harichandan said, “We are planning to organise the rally near the foot hills of famous Baurnei hills where the first battle against Britishers (Paika Bidroha, an uprising of Paiks against British rule) was fought in the early 1700s.”

The BJP leadership is  demanding that state should allocate 50 acres of land near Barunei for the construction of  a memorial of noted freedom fighter Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra with central help. By highlighting this the BJP wants to make inroads into the coastal belt.

This would be the second visit of Modi to the state within a span of three months. Earlier in September, Modi had visited the state and inaugurated the second airport of the state at Jharsuguda. During that visit, Modi had for the first time attacked the Naveen government.

During his upcoming visit, Modi will virtually launch the BJP’s campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Modi’s visit will be a part of the BJP’s ongoing ‘Jana Paramarsa’ programme aimed at spreading awareness against the failures of the BJD government.

Sources said the state BJP which has been witnessing infighting among the leaders on the issue of party’s chief ministerial candidate, will  use Modi’s visit to sort out its differences and also to sharpen its  attack on Naveen Patnaik government.

However, BJP insiders feel that Modi’s visit to the state has been planned to give a boost to the political career of the Aparajita Sarangi who quit the IAS and joined the BJP last month. She is likely to be fielded as the party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Bhubaneswar which includes Khurda.

AICC president Rahul Gandhi will also tour the state for two days in the last week of December. The dates, though, have not been finalized. “The dates have not been fianlised. Either he will be visiting the state on December 22 and 23 or December 28 and 29,” said a senior Congress leader.  During his visit Rahul will give final touches to the state unit’s preparations for the upcoming general elections.

However, like BJP the Congress, too, is being torn by internal problems which its top leaders are finding hard to sort out. In contrast the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is not only fully united but also the most well prepared among the parties for the 2019 battle. Naveen, thus, has already stolen a march over his rivals.

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