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3-min read

Behind BJP’s Rise in Odisha Was Modi Aide Dharmendra Pradhan’s Planning and Sharp Rhetoric

Pradhan’s proven organizational skills, lauded after BJP’s spectacular victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Bihar, were on display as he handpicked several candidates for the party in Odisha, who gave the ruling BJD a tough fight.

Anand ST Das | News18

Updated:May 25, 2019, 9:12 PM IST
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Behind BJP’s Rise in Odisha Was Modi Aide Dharmendra Pradhan’s Planning and Sharp Rhetoric
File photo of Dharmendra Pradhan. (Image: Twitter)

Bhubaneswar: When Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP’s face in Odisha, announced a dal-salt-rice package for the poor after the first-phase polls were over in the state, it was seen by many as a masterstroke. It was a surprise announcement as it did not figure in BJP’s manifesto for the state, which was released a week ago by Pradhan and BJP chief Amit Shah.

At a campaign rally at Chowdwar, Pradhan said if BJP comes to power in Odisha, the 3.26 crore people covered under National Food Security Act (NFSA) in the state would be given a subsidised ration package consisting of 5 kg rice, 500 gm dal and 500 gm salt for just Rs 1. The promise was clearly aimed at stealing a march on the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government’s KALIA scheme providing rice to the poor at Re 1 per kg.

This promise is said to have helped BJP reap richer electoral dividends in Odisha, where the party raised its Lok Sabha tally from just one in 2014 to eight this time. The state sends 21 MPs to Lok Sabha. In the Assembly polls, BJP managed to win 23 seats against ten it had got in 2014. BJP’s vote share in the Lok Sabha polls in Odisha rose from about 21.9 per cent in 2014 to 38.37 per cent while the ruling BJD’s fell from 44.1 per cent in 2014 to 42.76 per cent. BJP’s vote share in Odisha’s Assembly polls also rose significantly from 18.2 per cent in 2014 to 32.5%.

The dal-salt-rice package was the brainchild of Pradhan, said party insiders. Both BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reportedly cleared Pradhan’s proposal about the new scheme immediately after he broached it before them.

The 49-year-old Pradhan, who would have been BJP’s first choice for the chief minister’s post if the saffron party had come close to forming the government in Odisha, played crucial roles in building up the party organisation across the coastal state in the past five years. He also charted out BJP’s campaign strategies for the state. An avid twitter user with a million followers, Pradhan also guided BJP’s social media strategy during the polls in the state.

Pradhan’s proven organizational skills, lauded after BJP’s spectacular victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Bihar, were on display as he handpicked several candidates for the party in Odisha, who gave the ruling BJD a tough fight.

Soon after becoming an Union minister in 2014, Pradhan had started focussing on Odisha, his home state, and is widely credited for dislodging Congress from the place of the state’s main Opposition party in 2017. In the local body polls that year, BJP won 306 of the state’s 853 Zilla Parishad seats, reducing the ruling BJD from 651 in 2012 to 460. Congress was pushed to a distant third, its strength dwindling from 126 to 66 seats in Zilla Parishads.

As the Union minister of petroleum and natural gas, Pradhan led the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) from the front in Odisha, which saw a sharp rise in LPG households from 20 lakh in 2014 to almost 78 lakh in February 2019. It was due to his single-minded focus on the state that PMUY, launched in Odisha in June 2016, gave a boost to LPG usage in the state. The overall LPG penetration in Odisha went up to 73 per cent from 20 per cent in 2014 under his watch. He also displayed similar enthusiasm in the manufacture and distribution of Ujjwala sanitary napkins in the state. His plan, according to his aides, was to win over the state’s women, who are known to have been voting largely for BJD.

It was Pradhan’s pointed rhetoric on and off the campaign rallies, especially his sharp comparisons of the achievements of the Modi government with those of Naveen Patnaik’s, that turned the polls into a BJD-versus-BJP affair in Odisha. He continuously claimed that Patnaik was “misleading” the state’s people about the Rs 1 per kg rice scheme, the empowerment of women and the employment of youth. “For every kg of rice, which costs about Rs 32 (in the open market), Modi gives Rs 29 as subsidy while Naveen Babu gives only Rs 2,” he said at the rallies.

An RSS member since his student days and a close confidante of both Modi and Shah, Pradhan will now play a bigger role in his party and in Odisha. While his rise within the party and his no-nonsense attitude during the polls have earned him quite a few vocal critics, he seems confident of silencing them in no time.

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| Edited by: Debdeep Mukherjee
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