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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With the Election Commission of India announcing the poll dates for the bye-elections to the Pipili assembly constituency, Odisha is all set to witness another spectacular political battle soon.

As per the ECI notification, the bye-election to the assembly constituency in Odisha will be held on April 17, and the counting will be taken up on May 2. The filing of nomination will start next Tuesday (March 23).

Though none of the major political parties has finalised their candidates for the bye-poll, the exercise of candidate selection has been fast-tracked in BJD and BJP much earlier. However, showing the fragilities of old age, the grand old party Indian National Congress (INC) is yet to kick start itself into the battle mode.

WHAT BYE-ELECTION HISTORY SAYS?

Even as elections are always dynamic and depend on multifarious factors, the historical fact remains is ruling BJD has never lost a single bye-election since the year 2011.

Given the record, at the outset, the ruling BJD takes a psychological lead over its rivals.

WILL PIPILI TURN THE TIDE?

Electorally seen, the erstwhile Janata Dal and the present Biju Janata Dal dominate the constituency. And late Pradeep Maharathy had been holding the forte since 1985.

However, in his debut election in 1985, late Maharathy won by a whisker as the margin of victory had been a mere 0.58 per cent.

A glance at the electoral history of the constituency reveals that late Maharathy's margin of win depended on the pro or anti-incumbency of the ruling party in the State.

Sample the following.

  • In 1990, when the Janata Dal wave was there in Odisha, post the Bofors scam and high anti-incumbency against the then Congress government, late Maharathy's winning margin swelled to a massive 37 per cent.
  • In 1995, when high anti-incumbency against the then Biju-Patnaik led Janata Dal government and pro-incumbency against Narshima Rao led Congress government, the margin of victory shrunk to a mere 4.5 per cent.
  • In 2000, post the massive anti-incumbency against the then Congress government led to swelling of the victory margin to 20 per cent.
  • In 2009, when the UPA returned to power for the second time, and when BJD-BJP contested differently, the victory margin again slipped to 8.3 per cent
  • In 2014, when the anti-incumbency against UPA was higher than ruling BJD, the winning margin in Pipili for late Maharathy jumped again to 20.91 per cent
  • In 2019, when the Modi tsunami was sweeping the nation, the winning margin of the BJD candidate Pradeep Maharathy shrunk to around 9 per cent

The above poll arithmetic fact reveals that the constituency has been a stronghold of BJD. However, the factor of anti or pro-incumbency does have a role to play but not decisive enough to change the outcome.

ANATOMY OF PIPILI ASSEMBLY CONSTITUENCY  

The constituency has two blocks - Pipili and Delang. In the 2017 Zilla Parishad polls, BJD had made a clean sweep of all the six ZPs in the two blocks. This shows the constituency has been a traditional stronghold of BJD.

As per political observers, of late, BJP has made a good gain in Pipili but the Delang block is solidly backing BJD.

"It is this dichotomy in the Assembly Constituency that has compelled the ruling BJD to play its card close to the chest. Many in the core group strategist of BJD are mulling over the prospect of giving a ticket to a leader from  Delang block,  though the Pipili in-charge Education Minister Samir Dash had recently batted openly for the late Maharathy's family," observed a senior political analyst.

THE X- FACTOR

Will BJP emerge as the X-factor in this election to break the winning streak of BJD in bye-elections?

A look at the electoral history of the Pipili constituency shows that it has never faced a by-election since 1985.  While BJD will play the Naveen card to the hilt, BJP cannot play the Modi card as this has been a bye-election. In that sense, it's an advantage BJD.

Simply put, when BJD candidate in Pipili get the advantage from the party being in power, BJP will unable to do so as the party is ruling the Centre and in bye-elections, Central politics hardly matters.

With the emergence of BJP in Pipili, INC had been relegated to third place and the vote share shrunk to a mere 5 per cent.

THE BOTTOM LINE: For BJP to taste a victory here, the party has to work on a strategy that would lead not only to vote consolidation against BJD but also has to work hard to increase the voter turnout. All this shows the Pipili challenge for BJP looks hard when it braces up to face an advantage BJD.

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