Lok Sabha election: Naveen Patnaik magic to continue in Odisha

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Besides the Lok Sabha polls, the eastern coastal state of Odisha is also due to go the assembly elections this year. In both the elections, the state is certain to see the return of Naveen Patnaik, the reigning chief minister since 2000.

[Previous: Mamata miles ahead in Bengal]

Odisha sends 21 members to the Lok Sabha.

According to a poll survey in January, the Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is likely to win 10-16 of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state although its vote share is predicted to see a fall by around four per cent. In 2009, it had won 14 seats.

But why Patnaik is certain to win both the polls this year? To this, experts have aired different views. While senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta feels the Odisha chief minister's schemes on the ground have worked well despite the fact that he leads a life largely detached from the media and even his own legislators. Another senior journalist Sunanda K Datta Ray says Patnaik, like his legendary father Biju Patnik, sits at the top of a feudal society in Odisha and is revered as a person who is away from the political rat race.

Naveen Patnaik, although not a favourite of the media, has been doing his work as a leader perfectly well. Known for his non-corrupt image, Patnaik never dethered in dropping corrupt bureaucrats and even senior colleagues like Pyarimohan Mahapatra when it deemed necessary. He was even ruthless in dumping the BJP before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls over anti-Christian riots and these decisive steps always worked in improving his image as a decisive leader. His leadership qualities exhibited when Cyclone Phailin threatened his state last year are also going to help him in the upcoming polls.

But is Patnaik's positive image as a leader the only reason for the BJD's golden run in the state? Manini Chatterjee, another seasoned journalist pointed out the weak condition of the Congress as the main opposition party in Odisha.

Recently, the BJD captured most of the urban local bodies in Odisha, winning even the western and southern districts besides the coastal belt. It is being predicted that the BJD could increase its tally of seats in the assembly further (it currently has 91 seats in the 130-member assembly) at the expense of the Congress and BJP.

Why the Opposition is in doldrums in Odisha?

The BJD is accused of indulging in corrupt practices and win elections through unfair means, yet neither the Congress nor the BJP aspire to defeat the 14-year-government of Patnaik. Why it is so?

According to the Odisha Congress leadership itself, the party doesn't have the capacity to derail the BJD government and a few Congress leaders even feel of joining the BJD if they harbour any hope of becoming a member of the assembly. Even if they are popular, there is simply no alternative to the BJD in Odisha at the moment.

Naveen Patnaik's non-corrupt image and decisive leadership help his party

But can't the party work towards a revival? Chances are bleak. The inner feud in the party, among the Patnaiks and Jenas has weakened the party over years but yet successive losses haven't taught it any lesson. Recently, Jayadev Jena was made the Congress chief in the state with a hope that the fortunes would change. But the recent civic elections showed it was all the same. It was so pathetic that several Congress candidates even refused to file nominations for the ULB elections against the BJD. The latter won unopposed in more than 50 seats.

The reason for this sorry state of affairs in the Congress is the same: Imposition of decisions from the above. The Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee has over 400 members but it is ineffective in taking any call. The All-India Congress Committee takes all the state-related decisions but helps little in reality.

According to local Congress sources, the top leadership of the party expects that the BJD would help it some day by forming an alliance but that would never happen for the reason behind Patnaik's strength is his go-alone stand. The only hope for the local Congress members is a massive campaign by the central leaders in favour of the UPA government and against the BJD government but given the state of affairs even in the party's top ranks, how far effective will that be?

The BJP's position is equally poor in the state and many hold KV Singhdeo, the state prsident of the party, for such a state of affairs. Although, the pre-poll survey said the BJP's vote-share is expected to rise by eight per cent but that could be largely at the expense of the Congress.

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