Winds of Change Blowing in Odisha


Slum dwellers account for over 50,000 votes in the three assembly segments of Bhubaneswar Central, Bhubaneswar North, and Ekamra-Bhubaneswar located within the capital city limits. They are also concentrated in pockets of Jaydev, Jatni, Khurda and Begunia segments.

Winds of change are blowing in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been on the rise in Odisha consistently since 2019 when it emerged as the main opposition party in the state by winning 23 assembly seats and also bagged eight Lok Sabha seats, seems set to improve its performance with many hoping that a saffron government may come to power in Odisha on its own for the first time.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intensive campaign in the state is a sign of the renewed confidence of BJP which has obviously sensed an opportunity in Odisha which is an integral component of Modi government’s Look East policy. The logic is if BJP can form governments in Assam and Tripura and vastly improve its performance in West Bengal why cannot it come to power in Odisha where the conditions are much more favourable for the party.

Look at some of the key Lok Sasbha seats. In 2019 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the   prestigious Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat for the first time, setting   a new record. Bureaucrat-turned-politician Aparajita Sarangi breached this supposedly impregnable fortress of Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) defeating party candidate, former Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik who like her was a fresher in politics. She trounced him by a margin of over 23,000 votes.

Aparajita seems all set to retain the seat this time though BJD which is out to take revenge has fielded a young pilot who gave up his job to take the political plunge. What made Naveen Patnaik’s regional party throw in its lot with pilot-turned-politician Manmath Routray in one of the most prestigious constituencies of the state is the fact that he happens to be the son of Congress veteran and six-time MLA Suresh Routray who is supposed to have a following among members of the Paika community to which he belongs and who have a sizeable population in some assembly segments of the Lok Sabha constituency.

The senior Routray, who openly campaigned for his son after being expelled by the Congress for canvassing support for a rival party candidate, has sought to invoke the Paika pride, reminding the community members of their martial tradition and the sacrifices they made in the war against the British rule, while seeking votes for his son.

It is significant to mention that Paikas, members of a military class who rendered their services to Odia kings in the past and also fought the British Raj, have been demanding recognition for their heroes from the government. While Paika heroes like Buxi Jagabandhu, who led the Paika revolt of 1817 against the British, are now beginning to be recognized at the national level many other heroes of the clan are yet to receive the honour due to them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met the kin of Paika rebellion freedom fighters during his visit to Bhubaneswar in 2017. He was the first Prime Minister to do so and he was also sympathetic towards the demand for the rebellion being recognized as the first Indian War of Independence though the honour still belongs to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.  But his gesture has won the hearts of the Paikas who are now likely to throw their weight behind BJP.

The BJD candidate, whose father is a known figure in the Jatni-Khurda belt and has represented Jatni in the state assembly several times, thought he could rely upon the loyalty of slum voters who have voted for the party faithfully in most elections but they have changed and turned in favour of BJP following Aparajita’s good work for their welfare. Slum dwellers account for over 50,000 votes in the three assembly segments of Bhubaneswar Central, Bhubaneswar North, and Ekamra-Bhubaneswar located within the capital city limits. They are also concentrated in pockets of Jaydev, Jatni, Khurda and Begunia segments.

The most important factor working in favour of Aparajita is the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who held a highly successful road show in Bhubaneswar nearly two weeks ago. It is the same also in the case of Cuttack’s BJP Lok Sabha candidate and  six-time MP Bhartruhari Mahtab who joined the party in March. The veteran, who edits a well-known Odia daily and enjoys the image of an intellectual, was supposed to find the going tough this time as he had changed the party but things have been pretty easy for him as his main rival and BJD candidate Santrupta Mishra, an erstwhile corporate honcho, happens to be a rookie. Mahtab’s good work in the constituency is being appreciated as much as his decision to join the BJP. “This is the right party for him,” quipped a Cuttack resident.

Mahtab, a veteran of many battles, also appears to be relying primarily on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win this contest which the Congress is trying to make triangular but is unlikely to succeed primarily due to lack of resources. There is no denying that a large section of the electorate is sympathetic towards the BJP primarily because of their admiration for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is perceived as a strong leader who has enhanced India’s prestige at the international level. “Prime Minister’s popularity is a major factor in favour of BJP in many constituencies of the state and party candidates should be able to take advantage of this,” said an analyst.

Winds of change are also blowing in many other constituencies including the prestigious seat of Kendrapara where even Muslims are in favour of giving the BJP a chance this time. Fakruddin Ali, who does odd jobs, wants the BJP to get a chance in Odisha this time. “We have been voting for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for the last 24 years. Let’s put in the BJP and see how it fares,” he said.

On the other hand, resentment is brewing against the BJD led Naveen Patnaik government in the area because of its failure to address the outstanding problems of the constituency including assured drinking water supply and bridges over rivers and creeks at crucial points.

At Kharinasi where boats packed with men, women and children carrying their belongings and vehicles negotiate a crocodile-infested creek connecting around a dozen villages in Bati Ghar on the other side every day the people are sulking. It is a perilous journey which they are forced to undertake for want of a bridge. They hope the situation will change with BJp coming to power.

Another villager said, “We all depend on fishing for our livelihood. Earlier, we were able to catch enough fish from the creeks but now the creeks are full of crocodiles. Just two months back, a crocodile attacked and killed a woman from our area when she had gone to take a bath in the creek. As the number of crocodiles increases, the fish catch is falling. People are now scared of going out to catch fish.” All this, according to them, would change once a saffron government is formed in the state. They have high hopes about this.