BJP To Focus On Lok Sabha Seats in Odisha

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Aware that it is not easy to defeat Naveen Patnaik, the BJP is likely to direct its energies towards winning as many Lok Sabha seats as possible in Odisha so that Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister again in 2024. However, the ruling BJD in Odisha will pose a stiff challenge to the saffron party and may stymie its ambitions

 

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik being firmly entrenched in power it will be a Herculean task for the BJP to dislodge him in 2024. That being so the BJP, which is the main opposition party in Odisha, seems to be focusing more on increasing its Lok Sabha tally in the state in 2024. The recent visit of BJP national president JP Nadda, who toured Jharsuguda and Kalahandi, was an effort in that direction.

Nadda landed in Jharsuguda and then proceeded to visit Kalahandi where he addressed a public meeting. He also interacted with the party cadres trying to boost their morale and taking stock of the preparations for the crucial battle in 2024. No one knows better than Nadda that unlike 2014 and 2019 when the BJP swept to power at the Centre under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the contest in 2024 is going to be tough.

While there is no denying that the defeat in Karnataka assembly elections has dealt a blow to the party’s image at the national level the BJP will also find the going tough in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Bihar. Uttar Pradesh is perhaps the only big heartland state where the BJP can breathe easy despite the challenge being up by Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. This is because the party has a comfortable majority in the state assembly and chief minister Yogi Adityanath is well entrenched in power. His personal image is also likely to boost the electoral prospects of the party in the state.

However, in most other states the saffron party will be facing a stiff challenge from the opposition. While in Rajasthan, where the Congress is in power, the BJP seems to be a divided house in Bihar it is struggling to find new allies following the desertion of Nitish Kumar who is now part of Mahagathbandhan or the Grand Alliance. In Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP had come to power after toppling the Congress government led by Kamal Nath, the party is likely to face a resurgent Congress and the rebellion of a section of its own leaders. Chhatisgarh will be tougher still with Congress chief minister Bhupesh Baghel firmly in the saddle and having successfully poached one of the top BJP leaders of the state.

No wonder the BJP top brass are worried about the party’s prospects in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections when it will be seeking a record third term at the Centre. Hence, saffron strategists are trying their best to further strengthen party’s base in areas where it had done well in the last Lok Sabha elections. Odisha is one of the target states for the BJP as the party had won 8 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats there in 2019. This was a quantum leap considering that the party had just one Lok Sabha seat in the state in 2014.

Significantly five out of these 8 seats came from the western belt of the state which has been the traditional stronghold of BJP. In fact, the party won all the Lok Sabha seats at stake in the region solely on the strength of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. The other three seats—Bhubaneswar, Balasore and Mayurbhanj—came from the coastal belt and northern Odisha where the party is yet to get a firm footing.

Surprisingly, while the BJP won eight Lok Sabha seats in the state, its assembly tally was not very impressive. The party won 23 assembly seats and won the tag of the main opposition party, taking advantage of Congress’s decline, but its tally was a far cry from the target of 120 seats set for it by then BJP president Amit Shah. Political analysts sought to explain this paradox in terms of what has come to be known as split voting. The electorate resorted to intelligent or strategic voting and plumped for the BJP in several Lok Sabha constituencies because they wanted to see Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister of the country again but they put their faith once again in Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik who became chief minister of the state for the fifth time in a row.

The BJP poll strategists must have studied and analyzed the results of 2019 elections and come to the conclusion that while it may not be possible to dislodge Patnaik from power in the state given his high popularity rating it will be far more wise to focus on retaining the Lok Sabha seats that it won last time and trying to win a few more by leveraging the popular appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That puts Nadda’s western Odisha visit in perspective. He landed in Jharsuguda which is part of Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency being held by BJP. An industrial belt Jharsuguda was recently in news for the sensational murder of local MLA and former health minister Naba Kishore Das, an issue that the party can exploit in the elections. The assembly seat was won in a bye-election by Das’s daughter Dipali but she is a political greenhorn and the BJP would be looking for opportunities to strengthen its base in the area.

Similarly, Kalahandi Lok Sabha seat is also held by BJP with former state party chief Basant Panda being the sitting MP. While Panda, who has a strong RSS background, will try his best to further consolidate the party’s position in Kalahandi, he would also strive to expand BJP’s base to nearby districts like Rayagada and Kandhamal.

However, BJP’s plan to further consolidate its position on the Lok Sabha seats it won last time is likely to face stiff resistance from BJD which is reported to have made required course corrections to retrieve the ground it lost in 2019. Riding high on the popularity of chief minister Naveen Patnaik it will be posing a major challenge to the saffron party not only in western Odisha but all over the state. That should make the 2024 election an interesting battle.

What is equally interesting is the perception in certain quarters that BJP and BJD are having a fixed bout in Odisha. This perception has gained ground because of BJD’s support for BJP in the parliament on several issues. There is no dearth of people who think that BJD will let BJP win some Lok Sabha seats in the state as long as the saffron party does not try to unsettle Patnaik. However, Patnaik being a determined leader has asked his poll strategists to ensure that this perception is removed from the mind of the public and his party should try to win as many assembly and Lok Sabha seats as possible in 2024.

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