The ball for the three-tier Panchayat polls in Odisha will be on a roll from Monday with the kick-starting of the nomination process across the State. The stakes are high for the parties across the spectrum - from ruling BJD to opposition BJP and Congress. This is so because the outcome will lay the pitch for the 2024 polls.
While for the Congress there is nothing apparent to lose as the party had already hit the rock bottom in the 2019 Assembly elections, the political stakes are high for the BJD and BJP.
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 a lead in around 649 Zilla Parishad seats and BJP had a lead in 133 seats. The Odisha Congress had a lead in only around 52 seats.
However, if the seats won by the three principal players in the 2017 Panchayat polls are to be taken into consideration, BJD had then triumphed on 473 seats, BJP on 297 seats and Congress on 60 seats.
2019 State Assembly Vs 2017 Panchayat Polls
A comparison between the seat conversion rate of the 2019 Odisha Assembly polls and the 2017 Panchayat poll suggests a rise in the lead tally of BJD, but a dip for both the BJP and Congress. While the Odisha Congress exhibited the trend of terminal decline, BJP seems to have lost the gains it made in 2017.
The 2017 Panchayat polls were preceded by the 2014 State Assembly elections. And a comparison tells a bigger tale.
2014 Assembly Elections Vs 2017 Panchayat Polls
In accordance with the seat conversion rate, ruling BJD went to the 2017 Panchayat polls with a lead in around 678 seats. The party had romped home in 117 seats in 2014 Assembly polls as against 112 in the 2019 elections.
In contrast, the BJP jumped into the rural fray with a lead in around 58 seats. Congress fought the rural polls by having a lead in 93 seats.
However, post the die-cast by the rural voters in the State, the final tally of the 2017 Panchayat elections was BJD had won 473 seats, BJP triumphed in 297 Zilla Parishads and Congress achieved victory in 60 seats.
The above comparison revealed a substantial loss for ruling BJD and Congress; whereas BJP walked away with a significant gain.
2012 Panchayat Elections Vs 2009 State Assembly Polls
Wedded to BJP since the birth of BJD, the regional party for the first time went solo in the 2009 Assembly elections. And, accordingly, Odisha saw a triangular contest for the first time in State's electoral history in the 2012 Panchayat polls.
The electoral contest in Odisha had always been bi-polar - Janata Party/Dal versus Indian National Congress.
With a win on 103 seats alone, the ruling BJD joined the rural poll fray by virtue of having a lead in around 597 seats. On the contrary, BJP joined the rural poll arena with a lead in only 35 seats and Congress had a lead in 157 seats.
As per the final results of the 2012 Panchayat elections, BJD won 654 Zilla Parishad seats, Congress secured 128 seats and BJP emerged victorious on 36 seats.
The above comparison shows while BJP preserved its tally, BJD gained big and an equally big loss had been suffered by Congress.
2009 - 2012 Political Scenario
During the period of 2009-12, while the Congress-led UPA had been helming the Central government, BJD was on the driver's seat in Odisha. And BJP had faced the onslaughts of marginalisation in both State and Central politics - post the 2004 loss and exit of BJP vote magnet Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Mired in the CAG revelations and SC observations on mega scams like 2G and Coalgate, the Congress parties faced the headwind in the Panchayat polls. On the contrary, ruling BJD milked the situation the most by making the demand for Special Category State to Odisha, a big issue.
In order to beat the Congress, the poll theme in 2012 by the BJD was CM Naveen Patnaik's clean image and 'Central negligence to Odisha' versus scams in Congress-led UPA.
In the then fluid political atmosphere, Congress tanked its vote share and BJD gained at its expense - which is evidenced by the above comparison made.
2014 - 2017 Political Scenario
The fortunes of the Saffron party soared with the Modi-isation of the Indian polity. The party in Odisha witnessed a rise in its political capital in the 2014 Assembly elections.
The Odisha politics witnessed a sea change thereafter. In the 2017 Panchayat polls, the clock turned full circle in the State. The cupboard of CM Naveen Patnaik had dozens of skeletons - from Chit fund to NFSA scam, the Commission raj et al.
In contrast, Modi-fied BJP went to the town with PM Narendra Modi's slogan - Na Khaoonga, Na Khane Doonga (which means zero tolerance to corruption).
The Saffron outfit's poll theme then was zero tolerance to corruption and schemes like Ujjwala and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. The party even made a hard hit on CM Naveen's breadwinner the Re 1 a kilo rice scheme.
The Modi-fied BJP made the most of the loose ends in the Naveen Patnaik led BJD government, and the 2017 rural polls saw the meteoric rise of BJP in Odisha.
2019 - 2022 Political Scenario
Between 2017 - 2022, there have been two political constants in Odisha - CM Naveen Patnaik and PM Narendra Modi.
However, an objective assessment of political capital reveals that while CM Naveen Patnaik had to face embarrassments over many controversies - like Nayagarh Minor Murder to Kalahandi Mamita Murder, Mahanga double murder (especially, after a Judicial court upbraided the police investigation), Corruption in housing schemes etc.
Significantly, the big thing is in all such unsavoury episodes, the men in the docks are CM Patnaik's Fav team.
On the contrary, the political stock of PM Narendra Modi didn't hit by any such controversies, where his Fav men names have popped up.
2022 Panchayat Decider
As per political observers, the decider in 2022 Panchayat polls will be the number of beneficiaries in the State - means how many beneficiaries have availed benefits from the central schemes versus the number that gained so from the State government schemes.
From PM Awas Yojana to Har Ghar Dastak (free Covid vaccines), PM Modi has a larger than life presence in every village now.
Aware of this, CM Naveen Patnaik enacted a 'sop' opera before the announcement of the Panchayat polls and hopped to each district holding BSKY smart cards.
The advantage for BJD is, while Naveen Patnaik, being the CM, has a vital stake in the rural polls, for BJP, PM Modi cannot be a factor, for this being a localised election.
In the moment of such political truths, it's the vote bank or say the beneficiaries, that will play the decider role.