Himansu Shekhar Rout

Odisha witnessed the coalition between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) from 1998 to 2009 and during that period the two-party combine fought three parliamentary elections and two Assembly elections. Both parties have enjoyed power on a 4:3 seat-sharing formula.

Amid speculations of possible alliance again ahead of the upcoming elections, it may be worthwhile to take a look back at the coalition governance and the bitterness that ensued. 

Vacuum in Odisha politics

Let’s go back to the time of the coalition. It was in 1997 when former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik passed away, creating a leadership vacuum in state politics. The then biggies of the pro-Biju Patnaik and anti-Congress camps were in dilemma on the matter of handing out the baton of leadership.

They could not be together on the issue. They looked at one of the members of Biju Patnaik’s family as inheritors of his political legacy on which people had much faith.     

Interestingly, none of his family had ever dabbled in politics. Finally, Naveen Patnaik, the youngest son of Biju Babu was dragged into politics at that time when the BJP was dreaming of a Congress-free India. Some BJP stalwarts, directly and indirectly, favoured Naveen as the leader in Odisha with the creation of a new regional political outfit named Biju Janata Dal (BJD). 

In 1998, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was at the Centre and the BJD joined the coalition. That year, Lok Sabha elections were held in the country. Nine BJD leaders including Naveen Patnaik (from Aska) and seven BJP leaders were elected as part of the coalition. 

However, ill luck would have it, the Vajpayee government collapsed in 1999, necessitating general elections within a year. As many as 10 Lok Sabha seats were won by the BJD while 9 seats went to the BJP kitty.       

4:3 seat-sharing formula

In the 2004 general elections, the BJD won 11 LS seats and BJP seven. Both the parties had also contested the 2004 Assembly elections on a 4:3 seat-sharing formula with BJD in 84 Assembly seats and the BJP in 63 seats.  The BJD won 61 seats and the BJP 32 seats. In 2000, the BJD had won 68 seats and the BJP 38 seats.

Between 1998 and 2004, BJD president Naveen Patnaik was minister for steel and mines for two years in the NDA government. BJD’s Arjun Sethi was the water resources minister, Braja Kishore Tripathy was the steel minister and Dillip Ray was the steel and coal minister. BJP’s Debendra Pradhan was Surface Transport minister and Jual Oram was the minister of Tribal affairs. 

Strained relations 

However, the relations between the two parties started to strain in 2008, particularly after the Kandhamal riots. The Central BJP leaders had tried to save the alliance and held several rounds of meetings with Naveen Patnaik at Naveen Niwas, but failed to broker a truce.
On March 9, 2009, the BJD snapped ties with the BJP and the coalition caved in.

The then Odisha in-charge of the BJP, Chandan Mitra had to return disappointed after failing to convince Naveen. The BJD announced that it distanced itself from the communal force and went solo in the 2009, 2014, and 2019 general elections.

Leaders not enthused

Since then, a lot of water has flowed in the Mahanadi and the political landscape of Odisha has changed. Now, speculations are rife that the two parties are likely to get into a coalition again. 

Senior journalist Rabi Das said, “The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are ambitious about winning 400+ Lok Sabha seats. They are looking at some states where the BJP has good electoral prospects. Odisha is one of those states."   

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Senior journalist Sandeep Sahu said, “There is discontent among leaders of both the parties on forging an alliance again. How will the two parties convince the people? A powerful group of the BJD doesn’t want an alliance. Similarly, many BJP leaders and cadre are against the alliance.”

He also added that both parties are doing their exercise to convince the leaders who are against the alliance.

(By OdishaTV Bureau)