After an electoral loss, former US Vice President Mike Pence had once said "Well the truth is Republicans didn't just lose a few elections, we lost our ways." This fits the theme of Opposition parties in the State - the BJP and Congress - if today's voting trend is anything to go by.
Since the Grand Old Party (GOP) has not been on the reckoning in the rural electoral battle, the two ruling parties - BJD in Odisha and BJP in Centre - have much stake in the polls. Therefore, the saffron party has not simply lost to BJD in the Panchayat elections 2022, but the way the 'green revolution' has shrunk the 'saffron crop' in the rural land, it seems the BJP has lost its ways.
How BJP Lost Its Ways?
As per the latest result tally, the ruling BJD is going strong in over 270 ZP seats as against BJP in less than 20 seats. The Grand Old Party Congress seems ahead of projections by maintaining a lead in 16 seats.
A zoom back to the 2019 Assembly elections, and going by the seat conversion ratio, based on the seats won by the three principal contenders in the 2019 Assembly polls, the ruling BJD had then a lead in around 649 Zilla Parishad (ZP) seats and BJP in 133 seats while Odisha Congress in around 52 seats.
Even as the votes of more than 500 ZP seats are yet to get counted, the trend shows the ruling BJD going to win over 700 seats - a history in the annals of rural polls in the State.
The data with SEC shows that CM Naveen Patnaik is going to taste a historic Panchayat poll win ever since he assumed charge as CM of the State.
- The first Panchayat elections he faced after taking over the reins as CM had been in the year 2002.
- BJD then had an alliance with BJP. Both the parties grabbed 474 seats.
- In 2007 rural polls, the alliance struck at 474. But BJD increased its tally to 345 and BJP slipped down to 129.
- Then came the Rice vote in 2009. And BJD won the State single-handed with a record number of seats.
- At the cusp of his popularity, along with his mentor late Pyarimohan Mahapatra's Machiavellian politics, the ruling BJD posted a landslide win by conquering a massive 651 seats, leaving only 128 seats to Congress and a mere 36 to BJP.
- But CM Naveen Patnaik's juggernaut faced the once in a lifetime bump in 2017. The party could register win in only 476 seats.
- Modi-fied BJP emerged victorious in 297 seats and Congress was limited to 60 seats.
The first-day trend of the 2022 Panchayat polls indicates BJD crossing the 700 mark this time. And in the process handing down a crushing defeat to BJP, because Congress has already been a denuded force after the 2014 elections.
For BJP, touching the 2007 tally looks very challenging. After all, the party seems bleeding in its catchment areas. The party had won nearly 44 percent of 297 seats in 2017 from the 4 districts of Mayurbhanj, Bargarh, Balangir and Kalahandi.
The scene in 2022 is BJP is still to open its account in Mayurbhanj. The party is leading in only 2 each in Bargarh and Balangir. And in Kalahandi - the epicentre of the poll issue this year, where BJD could win a single seat in 2017, is now leading in 9 and has relegated BJP to second place and the saffron party is leading in only 4 seats.
Given that the 'saffron crop' stands parched in its catchment fields, the Party touching three digits looks very hard, and the colossal nosedive from at least 133 (2019 figures) to below 100 shows that the Party has lost its way out.
Why BJP Lost Its Way?
Bargarh - BJP's Perestroika In 2017 and 2019
This district has a predominant population of backward class had emerged as BJP Perestroika in 2017 Panchayat polls, where the party had virtually swept the ZP election. But in 2019 polls, BJP won only the Lok Sabha seat and had established a good lead over BJD, except in Bijepur where CM Naveen Patnaik was the candidate.
In the Assembly polls, BJD had established a comfortable lead over BJP in all the 5 Assembly constituencies.
The 2022 Panchayat polls reflected the same trend.
As the district has the largest number of farmer households who belong to backward classes, BJD played its cards well. The party has put its 'backward' foot on the front and had announced a large number of irrigation projects to win over the farmers.
Besides, the protest over the now withdrawn new Farm laws has put the BJP in a disadvantageous position in the farmland.
Data shows a massive 42 percent of villages in the district fail to get benefits from government-controlled irrigation systems.
The promise by CM Patnaik in 2019 and thereon, and the farm agitation playing the top-up factor, have together made BJP face a worst defeat in the district.
From precious metals/stones to sand, the district is rich in mines - major and minor. The district is dominated by agricultural workers and casual workers (mostly engaged in mining). The tribal voters have a deciding role in many ZP seats.
The district has a cultivator population of around 19 percent and agriculture labour constitutes a massive of over 58 percent. This shows voters linked to the farm profession constitute a high of over 77 percent.
As the majority of voters here depended on government supports like ration, MGNREGA to paddy procurement, the ruling BJD focussed on these key aspects. In 2017, the rampant corruption in ration card distribution and BJP capitalising on the resentment had made the BJD bite the dust in 2017.
But this time BJP tried to build a narrative on Mamita murder and BJD Minister Dibyashankar Mishra, which the voters didn't buy. The BJP tried to build the narrative of Anjana Mishra in Mamita murder, as both the crimes have different backgrounds it didn't click for BJP.
Around 66 percent of the villages in the district are tribal-dominated, whereas over 28 percent are non-tribal. A massive 78 percent of the population in the villages live below the poverty line. And 72 percent of them belong to ST, OBC and SC.
Data shows a massive 69 percent of the villages have no irrigation facility. CM Naveen Patnaik only in January had inaugurated the Jambhira Irrigation project to assuage the concerns of the villagers in the district. Moreover, as only 11 percent of villages have their own drinking water source, CM Patnaik had launched 18 piped water supply projects, prior to the Panchayat elections.
However, BJP has to do some introspection here because as of date nearly 4 blocks have no doctors in PHCs. But the distribution of BSKY smart cards seems to have gone in BJD's favour.
Above all, the BJD has played its political card well by effecting a change in weaning away the JMM vote bank brick by brick, that was started in 2019 when Sudam Marandi jumped to BJD ship. And 'Operation Conch' bore fruits in 2022.
As far as the Bolangir district is concerned, the performance of incumbent MLAs decides the electoral outcome.
In 2014, BJD had won the Loisingha Assembly seat. The Blocks faced a very acute drinking water crisis in the summers. Due to the unpopularity of the MLA Jogendra Behera, in 2017, BJP swept the zones in the Block and had even won the Assembly seat in 2019.
Now, the anti-incumbency factor against the sitting BJP MLA has made the voters swing to BJD. Hence the loss to BJP.
The same is the case with Patnagarh, Khaprakhol and Belpara. Only in 2019, BJP sitting MLA for a long time was defeated.
Above all, the artificial fertiliser crisis that had hit the State in 2021, especially western Odisha, along with the narrative on new Farms laws, have gone against the BJP.
And the new story is the 'green revolution, in 'saffron' catchments.