Patnaik’s BJD Re-Asserts Supremacy withPadampur Victory

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Biju Janata Dal’s defeat in Dhamnagar had raised eyebrows. It led people to ask questions with some predicting that it was the beginning of the end for the regional party led by chief minister Naveen Patnaik. But the regional party has made a tremendous comeback with the victory in Padampur and proved all its critics wrong.

The defeat in Dhamnagar was at the worst a temporary setback for the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal. The regional party re-asserted its political supremacy with a thumping victory in the Padampur assembly by-poll. The BJD candidate, Barsha Singh Bariha, daughter of deceased MLA Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha, won the seat with a huge margin of over 42000 votes, leaving the entire BJP leadership including her experienced BJP rival Pradeep Purohit red-faced.

Shaken by the setback in Dhamnagar, which the BJP retained successfully defeating BJD in a by-poll about a month ago, the BJD had thrown almost everything into the campaign  inPadampur. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who had campaigned virtually in Dhamnagar, went to Padampur personally which re-assured the people of the constituency. They were convinced that the chief minister and his government would take care of them, come what may.

Patnaik, who leads the most successful regional party in the history of Odisha, sought to convince the farmers of Padampur that his government was doing everything possible to solve their problems and that they should not be misled by the false propaganda of the opposition. Patnaik had to work extra-hard to convince the farmers because Padampur in western Odisha is a drought-prone area. Farmers of the area had also been agitating for the release of their crop insurance money with BJP alleging that the money had been released by the Centre but the state government was delaying its disbursement.

Union Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar had himself campaigned in the constituency. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and education minister Dharnmendra Pradhan also hit the campaign trail canvassing support for the BJP candidate who is a well-known farmer leader of the area.

However, Patnaik’s strategy of personally visiting Padampur worked and he was able to convince the farmers that he was actually doing his best for the farming community. The chief minister had also taken care to entrust campaign management in Padampur in the hands of seasoned BJD leaders like former Rajya Sabha member and former minister Prasanna Acharya. Senior party leaders were put in charge of different blocks in the constituency and asked to avoid any kind of complacency as this had proved to be BJD’s undoing in Dhamnagar.

But the most important factor that worked in favour of BJD was the sparkling image of chief minister Naveen Patnaik who sought votes on the performance plank. The string of welfare schemes launched by his government since coming to power was appreciated by the voters of this drought-prone belt which has been fighting poverty for a long time. The chief minister has launched a number of anti-poverty initiatives including rice for Rs.1 for all BPL families and meals for Rs.5 in urban areas.

Eversince coming to power in 2000 Patnaik has been contesting all elections on the performance plank. His other major plank has been his war against corruption which has evoked tremendous response from the people. The war against corruption has intensified in his current term which has been marked by good governance initiatives like Mo Sarkar, a transformational administrative initiative which seeks to bring the government closer to the people. The importance of Mo Sarkar can be gauged from the fact that it is being directly monitored by chief minister’s secretary and state’s first 5T secretary VK Pandian. It has helped improve the quality of administration by making government more pro-people. In the initial stages of the programme’s implementation the chief minister was himself seeking feedback from the public. He used to ask them about their experience during visits to various police stations since the interface between public and police is one of the most important aspects of governance.

Mo Sarkar not only helped change the image of police, it also improved the healthcare system of the state with hospitals getting upgraded and doctors treating patients with extra care. Chief minister secretary VK Pandian made field visits to acquire first-hand knowledge of working of hospitals in districts and rural areas and to seek feed-back from the people. This helped improve healthcare in a significant manner.

Over the years Patnaik has consolidated his position and turned the BJD into an election winning machine through a raft of schemes which cater to the needs of all sections of people. However, the most talked about of these are the schemes to alleviate poverty and empower women. The chief minister has been a staunch campaigner for women empowerment and has created a special department of Mission Shakti for the purpose. The department which is being led by its commissioner-cum-secretary Sujata R Karthikeyan has been offering financial and resource-based support to women self-help groups(WSHGs) which currently have more than 70 lakh members.

Patnaik, who was the first chief minister of the country to reserve 50 percent seats for women in pachayati raj institutions, has also been campaigning for reservation of 33 percent seats for the members of the fair sex in state assemblies and the parliament. His pro-women initiatives have helped create a loyal women vote bank for him. This has stood him in good stead in election after election. Padampur was no exception.

While Patnaik’s welfare schemes have been a hit he has also taken care to ensure that BJD leaders remain in constant touch with the people round the year. They have been asked to conduct meetings and rallies every month so that they not only remain in touch with people but also carry the message of government programmes to them. Thus, the party is almost always prepared to contest elections. This strategy has turned the BJD into an election winning machine.

Barring Dhamnagar the BJD has won every by-poll since the general elections of 2019 which brought it to power for the fifth time in a row. The stupendous performance of BJD in Padampur has not only re-affirmed the chief minister’s political supremacy but also set the tone for its preparations for the general elections of 2024 when the party would be seeking a record 6th term in office. If Patnaik succeeds in doing that he will be scripting a record which would be difficult to beat.

The rise of BJP has lessons for almost every political party in the country. The saffron party, which had just 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, is today ruling the country with a thumping majority. It has won two successive elections. Its story is a story of great successes and ups and downs.

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