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Last Updated : May 28, 2019 03:57 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Election Results 2019 | How Naveen Patnaik managed to halt the BJP juggernaut in Odisha

While the BJP has managed to gain in the state, it was far from its intended 'Mission 120' target in the Assembly polls.

Atharva Pandit @AtharvaPandit3

On May 23, Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik managed to retain the state for the fifth straight term.

That in itself is no mean feat, but it is especially noteworthy this time around since the Assembly and general election— held simultaneously in the state— were considered to be the toughest that Patnaik had ever faced.

Patnaik became the CM for the first time in 2000, and had been in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for around a decade till 2009, when he decided to go it alone. The Odisha satrap had won handsomely during the 2009 polls, drubbing the BJP and pushing it to a third position.

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Also Read | Naveen Patnaik tells newly elected BJD MPs to demand for special category status

Patnaik repeated his performance in 2014, winning 20 of the state's 21 Lok Sabha seats and 117 of the state's 147 assembly seats. Five years on, Patnaik has managed to retain his hold over the coastal state by winning 112 seats, pushing the BJP to a distant second at 23. Congress, which had been the Opposition party in the state, managed to win only nine seats this time.

It was a win-win situation for the BJP and the BJD as far as Lok Sabha seats are concerned. While the BJD won 12 Parliamentary seats, BJP edged closer to the regional party by winning eight seats. For the BJP, this was a significant gain from the one seat that it won in 2014.

Overall, however, observers have noted that it was a huge victory for Patnaik, whose state was being eyed by the BJP to make inroads. While the BJP has managed to gain in the state, it was far from its intended 'Mission 120' target in the Assembly polls, and could not manage a "Tripura-like sweep" in Odisha, as it had projected.

Introspection after Panchayat polls 

Observers have noted that the BJP's confidence of winning big— even forming its own government in the state— came after it won 306 of the 853 zilla parishad seats in the 2017 Panchayat polls in Odisha.

BJD had managed to retain its hold by winning 460 seats, but it had been reduced to that number from 651 in 2012. The Congress, meanwhile, was a distant third at 66 seats. It was then that alarm bells started ringing for Patnaik, who reportedly stated he was unhappy with the legislators whose Assembly segments had performed poorly during the local body polls.

Also Read | Naveen Patnaik: Defying Modi wave, Odisha's 'Mr Clean' wins 5th straight term

"I advise you to take this signal seriously as a wake-up call and get reconnected to the people and workers at the grassroots level," Patnaik had told party workers.

While BJP was busy building its grassroots cadre and strengthening its network, Patnaik bolstered his social media presence to reach out to the urban, young voters. Patnaik's Twitter and Facebook pages saw a stream of videos with Patnaik discussing the central government's apathy towards the state.

The CM also used social media to quell rumours of his ill-health, releasing a video that showed his exercise regimen.

Focus on schemes 

At the same time, BJD was also firming up Patnaik's mass appeal by highlighting the existing schemes and announcing new ones.

In December, for instance, Patnaik rolled out the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme for farmers. KALIA was the biggest such cash transfer scheme aiming to cover over 30 lakh small and marginal farmers of the state.

Also Read | Odisha Assembly Polls 2019: CM for 19 years, Naveen Patnaik looks to nip BJP's ambitions in the bud

In addition to that, the BJD cadre was also busy reaching out to those who had benefited from Patnaik's earlier schemes in the state. This included his flagship 'Mission Shakti' campaign, which included establishing a network of self-help groups (SHGs) across Odisha, particularly focusing on the state's rural areas.

On March 10, Patnaik had announced that his party would reserve 33 percent seats for women in Lok Sabha polls, a move that was seen by experts as aimed towards Patnaik's strong women voter base.

Reserved constituencies 

It has often been said that the politics in Odisha does not revolve around caste or communal lines. However, the state still has 25 Scheduled Caste (SC) seats and 34 Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats that can decide who wins or loses the election.

BJD won in 22 of the 25 SC constituencies, and romped home in 25 of the 34 ST seats. These seats are spread over coastal, central and western Odisha.

Observers have noted that the BJD's gain in coastal Odisha, where the fight had always been between BJD and the Congress, was due to the Grand Old Party's dismal performance. This also allowed the BJP to gain in the region.

Also Read | Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, here's why 33% reservation for women is a masterstroke from Naveen Patnaik

Reports have suggested that while BJD won big in the assembly polls, the BJP's scale-up in Lok Sabha seats might be a hint of bother for Patnaik. Speculation is rife that this might be 73-year-old Patnaik's last election. If true, that would make the Odisha satrap one of those rare politicians to have never lost an election.

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First Published on May 28, 2019 03:53 pm
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