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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Maintaining its winning streak in bye-elections, the Naveen Patnaik - led ruling BJD Thursday pocketed the Bijepur Assembly seat with a record winning margin.

In the bye-poll held on October 21, the ruling BJD candidate Rita Sahu polled a record 1,35,957 votes to win the seat by a huge margin of 97,990 votes from her nearest BJP candidate Sanat Gartia.

This by-poll to the Assembly seat, which was BJD's poll laboratory, was necessitated following the CM Naveen Patnaik, vacating the seat.  Naveen contested from the seat along with Hinjli in 2019 general elections.

The BJD's Bijepur experiment ostensibly started in 2018, when the party after facing a huge setback in 2017 rural polls was desperate to change the narrative. It co-opted wife of Congress stalwart of the region late Subal Sahu. The party then successfully won over the vote bank of late Subal Sahu, and along with BJD's committed vote base, won the 2018 bye-poll in a big way with BJD candidate Rita Sahu polling 1.028 lakh votes.

Bijepur has been called BJD's poll lab, because, in the 2019 general elections, to weather the sweeping Modi wave in western Odisha, Naveen himself decided to become a candidate from Bijepur, besides contesting from his traditional seat Hinjli in Ganjam district.

And the experiment bore results. BJD won more assembly seats than BJP in western Odisha, while it conceded ground to BJP in the Lok Sabha constituencies.

Post the successful experiment, Naveen vacated the Bijepur seat and brought forth his old ace card Rita Sahu for the bye-election, only to trump the opposition, especially BJP, in a majestic way.

For BJP, the poll numbers look a big setback. The party candidate Sanat Gartia could poll mere 37, 967 votes vis-a-vis 53,482 votes he polled in 2019 general elections fighting against none other than CM Naveen Patnaik.

The first takeaway has been BJP lost a massive 15, 515 own votes to BJD in this by-poll. Simply put, BJD weaned BJP voters, despite Naveen not in the fray.

What is surprising here is BJP did not change its candidate for the by-poll, and the campaigning has also not been slackening. The only one constant that didn't factor this time is 'Modi' factor.

The number crunching for BJP shows the party is back to square one. Because, in 2014 assembly polls, the party had polled 30,001 votes and in the 2019 by-poll it went up by to  37,967.

While in 2014 polls, riding on Modi Wave, the saffron party gained 11,000 votes, the votes in 2019 shrunk by over 15,500 votes. The numbers clearly showed how the BJP is on a downhill journey now.

This rings alarm bell for the party. The big carry away here is BJP's gain in 2019 Assembly polls was principally due to Modi wave. The 2019 Bijepur by-poll shows BJP's chinks up against its battle with Naveen Patnaik.

BJD's record win is possible, because, its elections managers fired at all cylinders. Not only it won over BJP votes, the ruling entity snatched 5,471 Congress votes to its kitty.

The grand old party, it appears, is writing its epitaph in Bijepur. Once a principal player in  the constituency, as the party won the seat in 1995, 2004, 2009 and 2014, is now at an all time low. While Congress polled 5,873 votes, All India Hindu Mahasabha polled 1,219 votes.

For Congress, the big takeway is fringe-isation of the party has started ticking in Bijepur.

The Bottomline: BJD's poll lab shows Naveen has grown stronger, whereas opposition players have become leaner. The experiment made it clear that Naveen as a scientist was successful in taking his hypothesis of being the strongest  to the right conclusion. BJD under Naveen has not lost any by-poll since 2011.

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