May 07, 2014

ODISHA & LOK SABHA 2014


WILL NAVIN BABU SAVE HIS TURF?



The battle for Odisha is one of the big talking points of this elections considering the fact that the eastern state will go to the polls later this year. All eyes are on the incumbent CM Navin Patnaik and many are wondering if he will be able to continue with his 14 year long rule considering that he is fighting both the BJP and the Congress. Having been a part of the BJP-led NDA, the BJD supremo broke off all ties with the saffron camp in 2008, accusing the latter of having a hand in the communal clashes in Kandhamal. The BJP was hopeful that regional player would fall short of majority in the legislative assembly on its own and would have to join hands with it. However, the regional outfit surprised everyone as it won two-thirds majority on its own. This time around though, there are speculations that anti-incumbency and the hype over the candidature of Narendra Modi will help benefit the BJP. In this scenario, Patnaik may be forced to rethink his strategy and may even come back to the NDA to help his prospects in the state. Also, in case the UPA manages to get a third straight mandate, he may extend external support to his old foe which he has made more or less irrelevant in the state. And finally, though he has not officially joined hands with the Third Front, he is considered by many to be one of the consensus candidates to the post of the Prime Minister, that is of course if the BJD can win 15 or more seats.

ISSUES

(1) The performance of the Patnaik regime: Having been in power since March 2000, the performance of Navin Patnaik as the CM of Odisha over the last 14 years is going to b the most important poll issue this elections. Over the years, he has built up his image as a pro-development, anti-corrupt and a secular leader. In his current term, the evacuation attempt undertaken by his government during the 2013 Phylin cyclone (Link) was much appreciated. At the same time, his name has figured in the multi-crore coal block allocation scam and it was speculated that the CBI was set to question him over a letter he had written to the Centre asking them to re-exam the request made by Hindalco. Besides, combating anti-incumbency of nearly three terms may be a challenge especially in the Union Elections where unlike in the state, the national parties are still strong.

(2) Patnaik versus Modi: Now it is clear that the Odisha CM is the most popular leader in the state. Besides the reason for him to be at the helm of affairs for so is the lack of credible leaders either in the Congress or in the BJP. However, the biggest threat to the BJD chief is his counterpart from Gujarat. Like in many parts of the country, the Modi wave is pretty strong in some pockets in the state and it is here that the saffron outfit is hoping to do well in the Lok Sabha polls. Modi though has been rather soft on Patnaik, probably indicating a return of the BJD to the NDA soon.

CONTENDERS

(1) Biju Janata Dal (BJD): There is no doubt as to which party will finish at the pole position both in the Lok Sabha as well as the legislative assembly as far as Odisha is concerned. However, the question is whether the party will be able to hold on to its impressive tally of 2009, given the fact that the BJP under Modi may have finally come out of Patnaik’s shadow. The last term had its own share of difficulties for Navin Patnaik. He survived an attempted coup by his long-time mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra and battled allegations of corruption in allocation of coal blocks. Also, his absence at the New Delhi conference in February this year where the ‘Third Front’ (Link) was ‘formalized’ was interpreted by some as a move to send feelers to the NDA. Meanwhile the party’s candidates include former captain of the Indian Hockey Team Dilip Tirkey (Sundergarh), Odiya film star Siddhant Mohapatra (Barhampur) and has retained at least 7 of its 14 incumbents including Baijayant Panda (Kendrapara), Pinaki Misra (Puri) and Prasanna Kumar Patasani (Bhubaneshwar).

(2) Congress: In the 11 years that the BJD and the BJP fought together, the INC was nearly decimated in the state. However, following the split in the NDA in 2008, the grand old party did rather well, finishing with its highest tally in the last four polls. It was also able to end up as a runner-ups to the BJD in the state elections of 2009. However, the situation in 2014 is not in the favor of the Congress. Navin continues to be strong; the BJP is on the up surge whereas the INC is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave. Adding to it is the deep rooted factionalism in the state leadership. Prominent party candidates for the General polls include incumbents Hemananda Biswal (Sundergarh), Amarnath Pradhan (Sambhalpur), Pradip Majhi (Nabarangapur) and Bhakta Charan Das (Kalanidhi). Besides, Union Minister of State and MP from Balasore - Srikant Jena too has been retained in spite of him not being keen to fight elections according to some reports.

(3) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): The saffronists did pretty well in the eastern state while it fought in coalition with the BJD. In 2009 though, the BJP was expected to break the ruling party's dominance in the state. However, what followed next was a disaster with the party finishing on a duck. Even in the state assembly, its tally was a paltry figure of 6. Anyway, many are believing that the party will do what it failed to do last time. If the saffron outfit can win say about 5 seats, it will emerge as the biggest threat to Navin's bid for a successive fourth term. The BJP held talks with several smaller regional parties to boost its chances but the alliances failed to materialize since it wanted the leaders of many of these to fight under its election symbol. In fact, if the NDA comes to power and does well in Odisha, you can expect the party to put up a good campaign against the BJD. Amongst the BJP's nominees are Pruthwiraj Harichandan (Bhubaneswar), Sameer Dey (Cuttack), Sukanta Panigrahi (Kandhamal), Ashok Sahu (Puri) and Sarat Dash (Bhadrak).

Others: There are host of new regional parties that have merged on the political landscape in Odisha who have thrown their hat in the ring. Former leader of the BJD in the Rajya Sabha and Navin's political mentor Pyari Mohan Mohapatre launched the Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM) after he was was expelled from the party for allegedly attempting a coup against the incumbent CM while he was on a foreign visit last year. While there were reports that the BJP was keen to join hands with him, the party cadre were strictly against it as they saw Mohapatra as the man behind the BJD-BJP split in 2008. The OJM was dealt a severe blow in March when two of its top leaders - Vice President Mihir Mohanty and General Secretary Bhagirathi Kar went back to the BJD.

Two former Congressmen Kharavel Swain of the Utkal Bharat (UB) and Soumya Ranjan Patnaik of the Ama Odisha (AO) have decided to join hands and fight the two upcoming elections under a common electoral symbol - the Earthen pot. Earlier, both these parties were expected to be a part of the NDA. Since the saffron outfit insisted on a merge prior to the polls, the talks seem to have failed. Similarly, the Samata Kranti Dal (SKD) launched by former BJD MP Braja Kishor Tripathy too decided to go alone after seat sharing arrangements with the saffron camp failed to materialize. The Kejriwal led Aam Admi Party (AAP) too is making its debut here. However, it was caught in a controversy after it fielded Narendra Mohanty from Kandhamal who has several criminal cases against him. Though his candidature was later withdrawn, the damage seems to have been done already.

PAST PERFORMANCE

In 1996, the INC was the dominant player here with an amazing tally of 16 out of 21 seats. By the next elections held two years later, the BJD-BJP swept the state, turning the tables on the Congress. In the following year, the partners in the NDA recorded their best performance in Odisha, winning 19 out of the 21 parliamentary seats from here. In 2004 too, the alliance did well even as the BJP dropped two seats. Last time, after the split in the BJP-BJD partnership, the INC tripled its tally to finish with 6 seats. Patnaik's outfit recorded its best performance ever, bagging 14 seats. The saffron party on the other hand failed to even open its account.

Political Party
2009
2004
1999
1998
1996
Biju Janata Dal (BJD)
14
11
10
9
4
Congress
6
2
2
5
16
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
-
7
9
7
-
Others
1
1
-
-
-

MY PREDICTIONS

The BJD will continue to be the single largest party in the state even though it may drop a few seats. However, the party to watch out for this elections in Odisha is the BJP. The saffron outfit, in my opinion will be the surprise factor. The 2014 Lok Sabha may be the chance when the party will break big. Of course, there were similar speculations in 2009 too. However, this time around, the situation seems to be drastically different. The Congress on the other hand, will drop seats for sure.

Political Party
Expected Seats
1
Biju Janata Dal (BJD)
10-14
2
Congress
2-4
3
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
3-6
4
Others
0-1

WATCH OUT

(1) Which way will Patnaik go? This is one of the biggest debates this election season. The options in front of Patnaik are many. In case the BJP does well, say it wins 4 or 5 seats in Odisha and if the NDA manages to form the next government in New Delhi, you can expect him to join hands with the saffron outfit. Similarly, if the UPA wins a third straight term, Patnaik might give it outside support. Also, he may well be an important constituent of the Third Front if the regional parties can stitch together an alliance to keep the national parties out of power. And the cunning politician that he is, he may well maintain distance from all three major coalitions if he can win the 2014 state elections on his own.

(2) Can the BJP break big? The 2014 Lok Sabha elections could be the big break that the saffron party needs in Odisha to enhance its electoral prospects. Following a rather ugly divorce with the BJD after a honeymoon spanning nearly 11 years, the saffronists got a rude shock as they drew a blank first in 2009 General polls and then dropped 26 seats to finish with a paltry figure of 6 in the last state elections. However, many believe that the Modi wave may give it the fillip it needs here. While it may still not be able to stall the Patnaik jaggernaut, it is set to relegate the Congress to the third position. Probably, the best case scenario for the outfit will be if the incumbent CM falls short of a simple majority, thereby needing the help of the BJP to form the next government. Of course, support to the Modi led central government in return will be a pre-requisite for this.

(3) The fate of smaller parties: While the BJD has been the dominant player in the state elections for nearly 15 years, it will be interesting to see how the other smaller players will perform. These include Pyari Mohan Mohapatra's Odisha Jana Morcha, Swain's Utkal Bharat, Tripathy's Samata Kranti Dal and Soumya Patnaik's Ama Odisha. Though they may not win any seat in the Parliament, the vote share they get will help us get an idea of their performance in the state elections.


Other posts in this series:
(1) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)