Why UP Results May Spur Realignment of Forces in Odisha

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By Sandeep Sahu

All eyes are now fixed on March 11, the day the votes cast in the just concluded Assembly elections will be counted. While the Congress and AAP have a lot at stake in the outcome of polls in Punjab and Goa, it is the results of the polls in Uttar Pradesh that is keeping everyone – including those who live far away and have little at stake in the outcome – on tenterhooks. Conversation in public is almost exclusively centred on the UP results and it is not difficult to see why it is so.

For one thing, at close to 22 crores, nearly one sixth of India’s population, the sheer size of the UP electorate makes it an election different from any other state election. For another, the results of the elections here would show where the BJP stands midway into its five-year term at the Centre. If the results in UP go the way they did in Bihar earlier, it will be a huge blow for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has staked everything to see his party through in this election even at the risk of being lampooned by the Opposition. The party will have to tweak its strategy and live to fight another day for the numbers that it desperately seeks in the Upper House to push through its agenda before 2019. But if the party performs well and bounces back to power – with or without an alliance – in the country’s most populous state, it would be hard to stop the BJP juggernaut. It would then be a case of BJP vs the Rest at least till 2019.

In either case, the UP results are certain to trigger a realignment of political forces across the nation. If the SP-Congress combine pips the BJP, it would encourage similar alliances between erstwhile rivals in other states to keep the BJP at bay. If it is the BJP that has the last laugh, it would lead to a situation where all non-BJP parties would be eager to come to a single platform – something on the lines of the erstwhile Janata Party – in an effort to stop the saffron party’s march.

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It is in this light that the back-to-back meetings of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and senior JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav with BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik should be seen. While Nitish was understandably reticent about talking politics, the more voluble Sharad Yadav dropped enough hints that a move to revive the Janata Parivaar was very much on the cards. Former Prime Minister and JD (S) leader HD Deve Gowda immediately lent his voice to Yadav’s call, hinting in the process that most regional satraps have now come to realized that it would be hard to trump BJP and Modi without a united fight.

But will Naveen Patnaik, who has to be a key player for any such move to succeed, play ball? The last time there was a move for such a broad, anti-BJP forum before the 2014 general elections, the BJD supremo initially played along before finally rocking the boat. But then a lot has changed since then. As the results of the zilla parishad elections have shown, the BJD is no more the force that it was in the run up to 2014 even as it continues to be the No. 1 party in the state. Hence, he is likely, despite his all too evident unease with a disparate group, to be a little more receptive to the idea of a non-BJP formation this time than he has been earlier. This is because the panchayat election marked a major shift in the politics of the state with BJP emerging as the principal opponent of the BJD, leaving the Congress, the erstwhile contender, far behind.

Ironically, the near-total eclipse of the Congress appears to have shortened the distance between it and the BJD. The ongoing budget session of the state Assembly has given early hints that in the wake of the BJP emerging as the principal challenger, a realignment of forces is very much on cards. The saffron party is the common enemy for both the Congress and the BJD. The Congress thus may not be averse to playing ball with BJD in a desperate bid to stay relevant in the state while the BJD may have no option but to discard its ‘equidistant from Congress and BJP’ line in the face of the new threat in the form of the BJP.

On the face of it, a BJD-Congress alliance may look preposterous. But politics haws had strange bedfellows before. If it could happen in Bihar, West Bengal and UP, there is no reason why it can’t happen in Odisha. In hindsight, BJD parliamentary party leader Bhartruhari Mahatab’s comments about the prospects of such an alliance a few months ago appear not without some substance. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.

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