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OPINION | BJP Set to Turn Heat on BJD in Odisha with PM Modi's Rally on May 26

Odisha is important for the BJP for two reasons. First, the party has been in power in the state, though only in alliance with the BJD, for nine years in the past and sees it as one of the states where it can gain a few Lok Sabha seats

Sandeep Sahu |

Updated:May 22, 2018, 9:19 AM IST
OPINION | BJP Set to Turn Heat on BJD in Odisha with PM Modi's Rally on May 26
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With Karnataka out of the way, the BJP has now turned its attention to Odisha. That is the message the party wanted to send out loud and clear when it announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would address a rally in the historic city of Cuttack on May 26 to mark the fourth anniversary of his government.

Significantly, the announcement came on Saturday, the day BS Yeddyurappa resigned as Chief Minister after failing to prove his majority in the Karnataka Assembly. Read with party President Amit Shah’s comment in the wake of the victory in Tripura that the ‘golden period’ for the party would not arrive till it won in West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala, the announcement is ample evidence of the importance of Odisha in the BJP’s scheme of things for the 2019 elections.

Odisha is important for the BJP for two reasons. First, the party has been in power in the state, though only in alliance with the BJD, for nine years in the past and sees it as one of the states where it can gain a few Lok Sabha seats to partially offset the losses it is widely expected to suffer in its strongholds of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other states in 2019. Second, the party is banking on an undercurrent of anti-incumbency against the Naveen Patnaik government that has ruled the state uninterrupted for 18 years, though there are no visible signs of it on the ground yet.

The choice of the historic Bali Yatra ground, set against the majestic Barabati Fort in Cuttack, as the venue for the PM’s rally is significant because it reinforces the BJP’s scarcely veiled efforts to hark back to the glorious past of the state, a strategy that had paid rich dividends in the Assam elections last year.

For those who don’t know, Bali Yatra commemorates the ancient maritime tradition of Odisha that saw traders from the state sail off for the faraway land of Bali, Java, Sumatra and Borneo (in modern-day Indonesia) and Sri Lanka on Kartik Purnima day. This bid to work on Odia pride was seen earlier when the Modi government announced a year-long celebration of 200 years of the Paika Rebellion, billed by some historians as the ‘real’ First War of Independence.

On what would be his sixth visit to the state after coming to power, the Prime Minister would list out the ‘achievements’ of his government in the past four years and ask for a report card from the Naveen government for its 18 years in power. Towards the latter end, the BJP released a ‘charge sheet’ containing a list of 36 charges, including big-ticket corruption cases, against the BJD government on Monday, the day the Naveen Patnaik government is celebrating four years of its fourth successive term.

On its part, the BJD has drawn up an impressive list of achievements of its own with which it would go to town. The party has already fulfilled 80% of the promises it had made to the people in its manifesto for the 2014 elections, BJD spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb claimed on Sunday while party sources say it would launch a PR blitzkrieg to take these achievements to the people. In fact, the PR drive has already begun in right earnest with full-page, colour advertisements extolling the performance of the health department splashed across the front pages of all major newspapers on Monday.

Not to be left behind, the petroleum ministry too has released full-page ads announcing the inauguration of an LPG bottling plant at Bolangir in western Odisha. For a while now, the Naveen Patnaik government and the Modi government have been engaged in a fierce, no-holds-barred ad battle to grab eyeballs. The battle is only going to get more intense as the elections draw nearer.

Simultaneously, the Modi government is expected to let the CBI loose on some key functionaries of the BJD, including ministers and MLAs, accused in the mega chit fund scam in an effort to embarrass the ruling party. With the BJP and BJD alternatively blowing hot and cold, the Supreme Court ordered a probe into the scam of around Rs 10, 000 crore, has been in a limbo for quite some time now. BJP strategists believe the resurrection of the investigation at this juncture would help take the sheen off Naveen Patnaik’s clean image in time for the next elections.

Aware of such a possibility, the canny Naveen has taken care to ensure that he doesn’t pit himself against Modi the way Mamata Banerjee or K Chandrashekar Rao have done. The fact that he had nothing to say on the political upheaval in Karnataka last week was not lost on anyone.

Earlier, he had politely spurned the overtures made by KCR, forcing the latter to cancel his visit to Odisha to finalise the contours of the proposed ‘Federal Front’. It just went to show that for all his fulminations against ‘central neglect’, Naveen is not keen to make the Modi an implacable foe. Most political observers believe his oft-repeated rhetoric of ‘equi-distance from the BJP and the Congress’ is nothing but a clever ploy to keep the doors open for possible negotiations with either of the two parties should the situation so demand after the next general elections.

But the BJP, after treating Naveen Patnaik with kid gloves for quite some time, appears to be finally turning the heat on. With at least two senior Congress leaders – former Union minister Bhakta Charan Das and former Odisha minister Sarat Rout – hinting at the possibility of a Karnataka like the post-poll alliance with the BJD to keep the BJP at bay, the saffron party has realised that it is time to go for the jugular.

While it knows its much hyped ‘Mission 120’ (winning 120 out the 147 seats in the Assembly) is no more than an idle boast, the BJP is in no mood to allow a walk over to the BJD in the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections next year. '

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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