By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: Ruling Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) membership is reported to have crossed the 80 lakh mark which, if true, is quite an achievement. With urban body polls likely to be held sooner or later all parties are keen to enrol new members but the focus has been on BJD and its prime rival, the BJP because of obvious reasons.
With Congress on a decline in the state, there is competition among these two parties to grab its vote bank. Results of the last assembly elections showed a steep fall in Congress’s vote-share and a rise in the vote-shares of BJD and BJP, the latter gaining more than the former.
The erosion in Congress’s vote bank, thus, benefitted both BJD and BJP but disillusioned Congress supporters largely preferred to opt for the saffron party because of two reasons—one their dislike for the BJD regime which they have treated as an enemy for a long time and the other being their approval of what has come to be known as soft Hindutva. A large number of Congressmen, despite their secular public posturing, have been closet supporters of the Hindutva philosophy though they would not go to the extremes that has been the hallmark of some RSS affiliates.
The BJD strategists have reasons to worry about this change in the preference of Congress supporters because they constitute a sizeable chunk of voters. That is why the party has taken its membership drive so seriously.
Significantly, a sizeable chunk of BJD’s new members are young people including women. While women have been BJD supremo and chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s most trusted ally in elections, the number of young voters is growing. Besides, unlike in the past when they did not attach much importance to their ballot, young men and women are now keen to turn up at the booths to exercise their franchise.
So Patnaik is right in trying to carve out a constituency among the youth with a renewed thrust on initiatives to entice them. Criticism notwithstanding initiatives like Biju Yuva Vahini are gaining in popularity. As for women he had won them over to his sidelong ago with the launch of Mission Shakti aimed at unleashing the economic power of the fair sex.
While government-supported women self-help groups (SHGs) continue to thrive in different parts of the state the chief minister appears determined to given women their due in politics. His campaign for the reservation of 33 per cent seats for women in parliament and state assemblies is not symbolic, it is real with chief minister giving BJD tickets for seven of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state to the gentler sex members in the last elections.
Significantly, one of these women, Pramila Bisoi, happened to be a septuagenarian SHG leader from Patnaik’s home district, Ganjam. She won hands down from Aska, the Lok Sabha constituency thrice represented by the chief minister in the past. The move has further consolidated BJD’s women vote-bank and the party is certain to reap its dividends in future. No wonder BJD wants more women and youths in its ranks.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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)