Stuck with the tag of a dull voter turnout in elections after elections, the Smart City Bhubaneswar will witness the first-ever direct mayoral election on March 24.
The ruling BJD has fielded Sulochana Das, former Congress leader and current chairperson of the Commission for People with Disabilities (PwD), as the party's face in the mayoral race. The main opposition BJP has picked Dr Suniti Mund, a new entrant to party polity. The Grand Old Party (GOP) has made Madhusmita Acharaya, daughter-in-law of former Cong MLA, party face.
Even as the three mayoral candidates are in the fray, this high-profile smart city mayoral fight will be between powerful BJD MLA and former 2-time Mayor Ananta Narayan Jena and Bhubaneswar MP and former BMC Commissioner-cum-IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi.
Aparajita Has been BJP's prominent face. She is now the party's national spokesperson. The BJP leader has the strategy and the potential to take the fight to the BJD camp.
With such a background to the Mayor battle, where both main contenders have fingers on the BMC nitty-gritty's, the race seems poised for an interesting finishing.
Even as the City has been selected as the Smart City by the Modi government, the voters are quite dull here. The City records a turnout of below 50 per cent elections after elections.
In 2009, the Bhubaneswar - North recorded a poll turnout of a mere 35 percent. The turnout in Ekamara had been only 37 percent. And Bhubaneswar Central saw a turnout of 33.8 percent.
In 2014, the turnout in North, Central and Ekamra had been 41.3 percent, 45.8 percent and 41.95 percent, respectively.
In 2019 elections, the turnout in the above Assembly constituencies had been 45 percent, 47.7 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
In the Civic polls of 2008 and 2014, the turnout in Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation Limits averaged at around 45 percent.
A voter analysis shows that among the 45-47 percent turnout, slum voters account for a lot of around 30 percent votes. As a consequence, the slum electors are key in tilting the victory scale.
Smart City But Insipid Voters - The Reasons
As per studies, the voter turnout in Civic elections are linked to three factors - political interest among voters, engagement with and rating of the civic body by the electors. The low turnout shows electors of this smart city have low political interest, low engagement with the BMC, and are not bothered to rate the BMC services.
An analysis of voter turnouts shows that the slum population which has the highest engagement with BMC turn out in large numbers to vote.
The above analysis shows that the party that pockets the maximum slum vote bank will walk away with the Mayor's crown.
Who Will Don Mayor Crown?
In 2004, when BJD-BJP fought in alliance, BJP candidate Biswabhushan Harichandan had garnered a whopping 70 percent popular vote share.
In 2009, the BJD, post-divorce with BJP, dominated the City's political scape, the city limits had been carved out into three Assembly constituencies - North, Central and Ekamra. The BJD took the cake from BJP. And the domination continues till date.
However, the emergence of Aparajita Sarangi in the political map of Bhubaneswar brings the eureka moment back in the Saffron camp.
In the 2019 LS elections, BJP candidate Aparajita Sarangi could take a lead of over 13k votes in Bhubaneswar-Central, the fiefdom of Ananta Jena and the constituency which has scattered and small slums.
However, Sarangi maintained a very slender lead of mere 200 votes in the Bhubaneswar-North Assembly constituency, where the slum population is highest.
The BJP candidate took a lead of over 11k in the terrain of BJD strongman State Minister and Ekamara MLA Ashok Panda. She took lead despite Khandagiri having the largest slum in Bhubaneswar.
Significantly, when the battle boiled down at the State Assembly level, BJD took a huge lead over all BJP candidates, including Odia cine star Aparajita Mohanty.
As per observers, Aparajita Sarangi could take lead over BJD in two Assembly segments and a very slender lead in another by the dint of two factors - her own no-nonsense image and the Modi wave.
But the fact has been that she was elected to Lok Sabha. The State Capital saw split voting because, some of the voters who voted for the Modi-Aparajita combine, pressed the BJD button for Assembly polls.
Sensing the slums as the key to victory, BJP Mayor candidate Suniti Mund vows to go for in-situ rehab of slums. Because, at present out of 436 slums, a whopping 320 are unauthorised. But as the slum-dwellers have a higher engagement index with BJD (given that it is the ruling party), it has an edge over BJP and Congress.