Perhaps the most significant takeaway from BJP President Amit Shah’s speech in Bhawanipatna on Wednesday was his refusal to mention the party’s ‘Mission 120’ that was launched amid great fanfare during his last visit in September last year. The explanation today that the omission was deliberate because the party expects to win even more seats in 2019 appears to be more of an afterthought and an exercise in damage control than anything else. There is little doubt that the party has revised its target downwards to more realistic proportions. The below par performance in Gujarat, setbacks in back-to-back Lok Sabha by-elections in MP, Rajasthan and UP and the crushing defeat in the Bijepur by-elections appear to have brought the party down from Cloud Nine to terra firma.
The BJP has come a long way down since the euphoria of the panchayat elections in February last year. It was the commendable show in this three-tier election, the zila parishad election in particular, which fuelled the ambitions of the party to conceive its ‘Mission 120'. But the Bijepur by-election seems to have burst the bubble and thrown the BJP’s electoral calculations for 2019 haywire. No matter what spin party leaders give to explain away the defeat, the truth is it lost badly in a constituency where it had everything going for it and had staked everything to win. Shrewd and canny politician that he is, the significance of this defeat could not have been lost on the BJP President. That is why his speech appeared to be lacking in conviction despite being laced with all the usual rhetoric about the absence of development during the 18-year long BJD rule.
Hours after his speech came the depressing news of the complete annihilation of the BJP in the Attabira NAC election. The lone seat won in Hindol was small consolation for a party that is supposedly planning to dethrone and come to power in next year’s election. The disastrous show in Attabira, in particular, must have come as a real dampener because the party had won an overwhelming majority of zila parishad seats in Bargarh district last year. Together with the Bijepur loss, this poor show in Attabira just goes to show that the BJP’s performance in the panchayat polls was more of a fluke than an indication of its growing support base in the state.
It is also significant that Shah’ itinerary this time includes only Kalahandi and Bolangir, two districts where the BJP always had a strong presence. In his speech in Bolangir today, Shah played the western Odisha card pandering to the sense of neglect in the region. It means the party has, at least for the time being, decided to cut its losses in its areas of strength rather than venture into uncharted territory. By now, it is clear that stung by the setback of sorts in the panchayat elections, the BJD is sparing no efforts to recover the ground it lost temporarily. And these efforts appear to be paying off, if the outcome of the Bijepur by-election and the clean sweep in the Attabira and Hindol NAC polls are anything to go by. Given the way things have gone in the last few months, it would be extremely difficult for the BJP to hold on to what it considers its ‘fort’ in the coming elections.
Even if it somehow manages to stave off the inroads the ruling party is making in its erstwhile bastion, the BJP’s dream of coming to power would remain just that – a dream – till it makes inroads into the seemingly impregnable BJD fort in coastal Odisha, which accounts for nearly half the seats in the Assembly. Bijay Mohapatra, the one leader who could have led the party’s foray into coastal Odisha, is sulking and completely sidelined in the party. Another prominent leader and Rourkela MLA Dillip is a thoroughly disenchanted person today because of the non-fulfillment of the promise for the second bridge on Brahmani and conversion of IGH into a medical college and super specialty hospital made by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi three years ago.
To use a cricketing analogy, a captain is only as good as his team. No captain, no matter how tactically sound he is, can do wonders if he has a mediocre team to play with. And that precisely is what has happened in case of the BJP and Amit Shah. Leaders and workers in the state have failed the party. That the current state unit president Basanta Panda has been singularly uninspiring is stating the obvious. The organizational changes currently underway in the state unit are obviously aimed at reversing the trend. The party appears to have realized that putting all its eggs in one basket may not have been such a wise policy after all. But with elections just a year away, it could well turn out to be a case of too little too late.
The BJP’s pusillanimous stand on the Mahanadi water dispute has not exactly endeared the party to the people of the state. In public perception, the BJP has sided with the Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh rather than Odisha on the question of sharing of Mahanadi water. The fact that disgruntled leaders and workers in the Congress are making a beeline for the BJD rather than the BJP makes things even more difficult for the saffron party. There is a distinct possibility of even some BJP leaders joining the BJD in the run up the elections.
Given all this, it would require nothing short of a miracle for the BJP to catapult itself to power in 2019. Its ‘Mission 120’ now lies in tatters.
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