Even though 2017 did not bring any great upheaval in the political landscape of Odisha, it had enough stirrings. Patterns assumed new paradigms, faces got facelifts, oblique became overt, status quo brought predicaments, leaderships lost loyalty and infighting prodded implosions. We look back at some of the stories which created ripples…
Poll battles ahead of the war
Panchayat poll in February was an indicative test on popularity front for ruling BJD. Though BJD remained the top scorer in rural polls, BJP’s significant success gave cold feet to the ruling party. While BJD leaders accepted that overconfidence led to loss at several ZP zones, the saffron party got the much needed confidence boost which dictated the party’s strategy towards the ruling-dispensation all through the year. Meanwhile, the push and shove continues for the pending by-poll for the Bijepur constituency necessitated by the demise of Congress MLA Subal Sahu as many see it as one more litmus test for the parties ahead of the real war of 2019.
BJP’s ‘Mission 120’
Whether it is Mission 120 or Mission 120+, it was one of the boldest claims made by any party against the ruling dispensation in its 17 years rule. The success in the Panchayat Polls provided the BJP enough fuel and confidence to take the fight on to the ruling-BJD at least verbally with its campaign to claim more than 120 seats, ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Congress’ leadership crisis
What stemmed from belligerence towards Congress’ Odisha in-charge BK Hariprasad soon snowballed into a leadership crisis for the party over the course of 2017. The cracks at the seams became gulf between the members assuming implosive proportions. The Congress got divided into two camps and pressure continued to mount on current Odisha chief of the party Prasad Harichandan to make way.
There are a lot of conceivable underpinnings –perception management, growing social media presence of opposition or could be just plain simple need-of-the-hour among others. Considered to be a man of a few words, Odisha CM and BJD president Naveen Patnaik somehow in 2016 became a man of a few more words. From taking selfies to clocking a record number of followers on social media, Naveen Patnaik’s image was never more expressive & vocal. Moreover, there was a conscious effort on the part of his party to deify its leader, which was evident during Naveen’s march to New Delhi for a tripartite meeting over Mahanadi dispute and also upon his return after receiving the best administrator award from Outlook magazine.
Biggest Cabinet rejig
In the biggest reshuffle in the history of BJD’s 17 years’ rule, party president and CM Naveen Patnaik inducted 10 new ministers , 6 of whom were new faces, into the State cabinet. Sushant Singh, Nrushingha Sahu, Anant Das, Chandra Sarathi Behera and Sashi Bhusan Behera became ministers for the first time, while Naveen also reposed faith on veterans like Niranjan Pujari, Surya Naryan Patro, Prafulla Samal, Pratap Jena and Maheswar Mohanty by giving them another chance.
High profile visits
Visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah more than once this year underlined the Saffron party’s ‘Look East’ policy. Such visits not only ‘galvanised’ the BJP party workers in Odisha but also Narendra Modi’s extemporaneously got off his vehicle to take a walk amidst sea of crowd at Jaydev Vihar caught everybody’s attention and many off-guard.
Third front & alliance chatter
Political circle was abuzz with talks on a possible ‘grand alliance’ after meetings between BJD president and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik with Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Even Naveen’s meetings with Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav did add fuel to the fire. On the domestic front, BJD vice president and senior minister Damodar Rout’s comments that Congress is not ‘untouchable’ did increase the likelihood of BJD looking for a partner to counter BJP in 2019.
In 2017, amid the war of words between political parties, a concurrent war of eggs was being waged on the ground with many senior leaders across party lines falling victim to this egregious form of protest to settle political scores. Egg attack on Kendrapara MP Baijayant Panda during a visit to Mahanga drew sharp criticism from different quarters. Similarly, BJP supporters slammed the State government after Union Minister Jual Oram faced an egg attack in Rajkanika in June. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s vehicle was also attacked with eggs in Bhubaneswar during his visit to State.
As 2017 drew to a close, the general elections of 2019 drew closer. The emergence of BJP, frequent infighting within Congress and sporadic discontent in BJD brought about a lot of churning within the parties. Throughout the year ‘Mishran Parvas’ (joining ceremony) were held by BJD and BJP to welcome members while Congress bled. Some high profile and noteworthy defections included Congress’ Sulochana Das & late Subal Sahu’s family joining BJD and Congress’ firebrand leader late Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra’s daughter Upasana getting into BJP fold.
Interestingly, student elections this year were called off in more number of colleges than they were actually held. Student polls across the State were marred by unrest and alleged political interference leading to cancellation of polls barring a handful of colleges. However, amid such pandemonium, shoots of reforms emerged to curb disturbances and political interferences. Even though no headway was made in 2017, Ravenshaw University’s proposed new model of election is something to watch out for.
Pratap Deb’s nomination to Rajya Sabha
BJD’s Pratap Keshari Deb became Rajya Sabha member from Odisha after he was elected uncontested in May. The by-election to the Upper House was necessitated after Bishnu Charan Das resigned from the Rajya Sabha in March following his appointment as deputy chairman of the Odisha State Planning Board. Congress and the BJP did not field any candidate for the Rajya Sabha by-poll. Deb is also a spokesperson of the ruling BJD.