Sandeep Sahu

It’s a huge relief for everyone. Except for a handful of power brokers on either side of the political divide hell-bent on pushing an untenable alliance down the unwilling throat of lakhs of workers of the two parties; BJP and BJD. Senior leader and six-time MP from Cuttack Bhartruhari Mahatab, who quit the BJD moments after the announcement by BJP state unit president Manmohan Samal that the party would go it alone in the coming elections, was spot on when he said it would have been an ‘immoral alliance’ and bad for democracy, if it had gone through.

If the power brokers had their way, this perhaps would have been the first instance in independent India when a ruling party would have gone into an election in alliance, formed weeks before the election. with the principal opposition party. With the Congress still trying to lift itself from the abyss it has sunk into, this would have turned the elections into a virtual no-contest even as workers of the two major parties would have engaged themselves in a fierce, no-holds-barred war with each other.

After all, notwithstanding the bonhomie between the top leadership of the two parties, the workers of both the parties have sweated it out and fought each other on the ground for years. They could hardly be expected to kiss and make up and live happily everafter just because their leaders chose to be allies. Even though the leaders took the two parties to the brink, they deserve some credit for pulling off at the last moment. Or maybe, it’s the workers and leaders of the two parties – and not the top leaders – who deserve praise for forcing their leaders to see reason and desist from pushing the alliance agenda. Whatever it is, the happy finale to the 17-day long drama has saved everyone – and not just the workers of the BJP and BJD - from chaos and confusion. Think of the average voter.

If someone wants to vote for the BJD but finds that the candidate in his constituency is from the BJP, who does s/he vote for? The same goes for someone who wants to vote against the BJD and for the BJP. In sheer disgust, such voters would have either voted for the Congress (knowing full well that it is no position to form the government on its own), NOTA or abstained from voting altogether – hardly a great advertisement for democracy, which should offer the voter a real choice. With the alliance off the table, it now looks like a proper contest.

If the Congress can pull its socks in time and cash in on the negative vibes the two wannabe allies created for themselves during the last fortnight, this may even turn out to be a proper, three-cornered contest. If that happens, it would make the elections even more interesting as it would turn the equations – and calculations – upside down. But there is one possible dampener. Even as it announced its decision to fight the elections on its own, it is clear that the BJP – the central leadership of the party, to be more precise – has left the door ajar for a possible post-poll informal arrangement of the kind that has been in existence between the two sides at least for the last five years.

There can be no other explanation for the fact that the post on ‘X’ by BJP state unit president Manmohan Samal starts with an expression of gratitude to the BJD for its support to the Modi government on ‘issues of national importance’ and contains not a word about the alleged corruption, misrule and babu-raj of the Naveen Patnaik dispensation that the state unit has been ranting against day in and day out.

All that it says by way of justification for fighting alone is that the benefits of the central schemes are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. In fact, the text of the tweet in Hindi suggests that it has been drafted by the central leadership of the party, careful not to enrage its most trusted non-NDA ally and shut the doors on a possible informal understanding after the polls! A ‘friendly fight’ between the BJP and BJD, if it happens, will take the fun out of the elections and condemn the people of the state to suffer another five years of the two principal contenders for power ‘sleeping with the enemy’.

Given the experience of the 2019 election and the five years since then, even the use of some harsh and belligerent words by Modi, Shah and others during electioneering would not fully convince the electorate that there would be no post-poll tie-up between the two. After all, Naveen, as we have seen over the two decades, is a master of the art of staying on the right side of the party in power at the Centre. Notwithstanding the BJP’s decision to fight alone, therefore, the voter is still confused about who to vote for. No matter how things pan out after the polls, there is no denying the fact that this election is going to be the toughest for Naveen and his party.

Having staked everything, including his own political standing, on foisting VK Pandian as the de-facto leader of the party, Naveen would end up one of two ways. Either he would go down in history as a leader who never lost an election. Or as the man who, after taking the party to dizzying heights, also presided over its disintegration. Either way, it’s going to be a make or break election as much for the BJD supremo as it is for his protégé.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)