The countdown for the Panchayat elections has begun in Odisha. All eyes are on the 'Renaissance Capital' of 2017 polls where the saffron sweep had made the ruling BJD so jittery that CM Naveen Patnaik parachuted himself to take up the cudgels against the Modi-led BJP in 2019.
The political situation was so compelling for the BJD that CM Patnaik jumped into the poll fray to administer a booster dose to the party in the district, and western Odisha as a whole. What made the party edgy had been that the land where BJD met its waterloo has been the fiefdom of party satraps like Prasanna Acharya and Sushant Singh. The party had painted it green only in 2014. But the saffron surge in 2017 had simply inundated the greens.
The 'Renaissance Capital' is none other than the Bargarh district. A total of 10.41 lakh voters will cast their votes in the upcoming rural elections from Feb 16. The district will see the participation of 57,117 new voters. Tagged as the rice bowl of the State, and of late, especially in 2015-17, as the farmer suicide capital of the State, all eyes are on the district.
Drought and farmer suicides had dominated the landscape so grippingly that CM Patnaik in October 2017 (after rural poll defeat) had announced the Gangadhar Meher Lift Canal System.
Bumps For BJD
The shortage of water for irrigating lands has still been acute in the Bheden Block. Farmers are unhappy with the ruling BJD over distress sale of crops - from paddy to vegetables. Farmers in Sohela Block had even staged a roadblock agitation last year.
In the 2017 Panchayat polls, BJP secured a big win in all ZP seats, except three of the total 34 seats in the district. Going by the 2017 Panchayat results, the saffron party had established a winning lead over BJP in all Assembly seats, except Bhatli.
But in the 2019 Assembly elections, the ruling BJD romped home comfortably in all the 5 Assembly segments falling in the district. However, BJP dusted the BJD in the Lok Sabha elections.
Cut to 2022. The ruling BJD is trying its luck hard to revert the 2017 results. The party hopes to make a clean sweep this time, especially after the emphatic win in Assembly polls. But there are ifs and buts.
Even though the saffron party has become a little weaker in Padampur from 2019 onwards following the exit of RSS veteran late Subash Chauhan from BJP, the gain by BJD has not been very high. The vote difference hovers at around 2 percent. The ZP constituencies like Jharaband and Paikamal can go either way, provided whose poll machinery is strong.
Moreover, for the BJD, unlike in 2019, CM Naveen Patnaik is not in the poll fray. Bargarh district is the only district where the Modi factor was at full work and even neutralised the Naveen Patnaik factor.
The 2019 Lok Sabha results reveal how in the Modi Vs Naveen showdown, only Bijepur voted for Naveen. The rest went along with the Modi wave. They voted Suresh Pujari of BJP, who is not native to the district and as a voter is enrolled in neighbouring Sambalpur.
- As Naveen Patnaik was the candidate in Bijepur in 2019, party veteran Prasanna Acharya maintained a big lead of 25k over BJP's Suresh Pujari.
- But the lead of BJP over BJD in Bargarh had been around 25k.
- BJP lead in Attabira at around 12k.
- In the bastion of State Minister Sushant Singh, BJP established a lead of around 7k.
- However, in Padampur, the lead by BJP is a measly 2k.
The Bottom Line
As per the ground scenario in 2022, after the saffron surge led inundation in 2017, the BJD played real politicks in the district. Being in power, the party has co-opted many Congress leaders brick by brick. The consequence has been BJD is now drawing on the votes of the Congress party. Since PM Modi is not a factor in the Panchayat polls, it seems advantageous BJD.