Amid the Omicron variant wrestling fast towards the peak in Odisha, whistle for the political wrestling in the rural arena has been blown. Four-fifth of the landmass will take a dive into polling from Feb 16 to 24 to elect its grassroots leaders who et al will preside over the three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions in the State for the next 5-years.
But what is keenly watched in the 2022 edition of Panchayat polls is when the State administration is expected to do a bulwark against Omicron penetration and surge in the rural landscape of the State, it would instead be going to plunge deep into the poll-work from today.
In the 2017 edition of rural polls, the voting was held from Feb 13-21. The State Election Commission (SEC) has cleverly scheduled the Panchayat polls to kickstart from Feb 16, when the Third Wave peak in the State is predicted to take place in the first half of February.
Even as the SEC tip-toeing the guidelines recently announced by the Election Commission of India for the upcoming State Assembly polls in five states, has banned public rallies and gatherings, the poll carnival is all set to hit the rural arena soon.
Bumpy Drive For BJD In 2017 Edition
The 2017 Panchayat poll edition had precedence. The state was ravaged by the worst drought in 2015, which stirred up large scale farmer suicides manufacturing a storm of dissent against the ruling BJD then, especially when the party then had brazened out the farm suicides.
Misfortune comes in hordes goes the saying. Odisha plunged into a colossal water crisis in 2016 summer that made the State look like a parched land.
And above all, the teachers were then on a warpath with the State govt over their host of long-pending demands like regularisation, salary hike etc.
And these very strong faultlines (farmers + teachers + water scarcity hit village residents) had then shaken the electoral demography for the ruling BJD in 2017. And as a top-up to the already large-scale discontent, the localised tremors like Malkangiri children deaths in a sequel to the 2015 infant deaths at Cuttack had jolted the 'demographic equilibrium’ of the BJD completely.
In order to blunt the sharp edges, the ruling BJD then tried to rake up the emotive issue of dams on Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh side to browbeat the BJP, as the then neighbouring Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh had been drafted by the Saffron party as the star campaigner to defeat the BJD's Rs 1 Kilo rice scheme, which actually was implemented first in Chhattisgarh with more offerings.
The ruling BJD strategists had then built their campaign on the emotive issues of Mahanadi in western Odisha and Polavaram in south Odisha.
The State then witnessed much political drama - from Mahanadi Aarti to Kalash Yatra. Amid the high voltage scenario, the die was cast by the rural voters, BJP shocked BJD. The Saffron Party won 297 of the 851 Zilla Parishad seats, and the rest was history.
Between 2017 and 2022 Panchayat poll editions, was the 2019 Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. Though CM Naveen Patnaik romped home with a big tally, BJP cut short the BJD magic run in the Lok Sabha polls by securing a high of 38.4 per cent of the votes and winning 8 Lok Sabha seats.
However, the Saffron dream run was limited to a 32.5 percent vote share and 23 seats in the Assembly polls held along with Lok Sabha polls.
2022 Panchayat Poll Edition
Chastened by the severe drubbing in the 2017 edition of Panchayat polls, the ruling BJD helmed by CM Naveen Patnaik has faithfully followed the book rule of famous American political scientist Harold Lasswell.
Lasswell had once said, "Politics is who gets what, when, how." The five-time CM Naveen Patnaik has perfectly played the trademark 'Lasswell Politics' this time.
Panchayat 'Sop' Opera
With no such natural disaster hitting the State in 2020 and 2021, except the pandemic, the ruling party has kept its 'sop' opera on . A week before the announcement of Panchayat polls by SEC, CM Patnaik has announced a lot of sops meant for sections across the society.
- CM hopped districts after districts and distributed smart health cards under the scheme Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY).
- BSKY was launched after the launch of Modicare - Ayushaman Bharat. It is a health insurance scheme by the Odisha govt that allows the beneficiaries to get free treatment in private hospitals.
- The CM has announced monetary incentives for Anganwadi and SHG workers.
- Also announced financial assistance for the repair of houses in village areas.
- The CM had also raised the pay of over 33000 junior teachers in schools by over 50 per cent
- Regularized jobs of over 8100 contractual teachers in schools, when the issue was hanging since 2016.
- Launched a series of mega piped water drinking projects.
- Last but not least has been the announcement of raising the age bar for govt jobs to 38 years from the existing 32 years, 12 hrs before the Panchayat poll date announcement.
There is a famous saying that politics is always played on the ground of hope. By rolling out the 'sop' opera for sections across the society, CM Patnaik and the ruling BJD have made it battle-ready.