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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With Election Commission declaring the big dates Sunday, the battle for ballots in Odisha in 2019 seems to be one of the lengthiest poll schedules in recent history. Though for Election Commission staggered polls means ensuring provisioning of adequate central security forces to guarantee a free and fair poll, for political parties it is a gruelling affair of sorts. Though all major political parties in Odisha generally welcomed the poll schedule announced by the Commission, the moot point is will a staggered poll impact the poll outcome?

According to psephologists, though no specific pattern of voter behaviour has been recorded in such staggered polls, one thing they are certain about is such long staggered polls could benefit a political party that is riding on a wave. However, the staggered poll effect will not make any impact if there is a close contest. The reason: in a 'wave election', the party riding on a wave picks up seats in a much larger way as a long election campaign helps it increasing its wavelength; whereas in close-contested elections the effect is nil as voters have no idea of who is winning.

Cutting to Odisha scenario now. To be sure, the Elections 2019 in Odisha are not a closely fought battle. Talking to a cross section of voters representing class (educated, uneducated) and castes drop a big hint on the prevailing scenario on ground. In Odisha, there are indications of a 'wave election' in 2019. Voters here seem to have a clear opinion on their probable choices. While educated voters across the age-groups are likely to tilt towards PM Narendra Modi, uneducated voters mood show a loyalty towards CM Naveen Patnaik.

When voters express a very clear opinion on preferable choices, then the election could be classified as a 'wave election', feel political observers. Moreover, a scope for close contest actually exists when there is a multi-cornered contest. In Odisha, though, elections 2019 will be a three-cornered contest on paper, on ground the election 2019 is gradually fashioning up as a Modi vs Naveen contest, except in a few constituencies where Congress has a loyal base.

A look at the electoral demography shows why the Congress is not on an equal footing to effect the poll outcome at the hustings in Odisha. Congress party's main vote bank in Odisha was uneducated, poor and downtrodden classes. Significantly, the very voter bloc has now moved to BJD courtesy the populist pro-poor schemes.

However, the complexity of 2019 election is such that despite the clear voter opinion what it suggests is, perhaps, for the first time in Odisha voters could give a separate verdict for the Parliamentary and assembly polls. Because, the popularity quotient of both Modi and Naveen is high in State. The elections in 2019 seem again to be veering towards a personality contest. It seems pertinent to remind here that electoral history of Odisha is evident how State has always voted for the same party in both Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. From 1977 to 2014, voters in Odisha have shown a tilt towards a single party in both elections - Lok Sabha and State Assembly. Significant, however is, unlike in 2019, the voter opinion then was polarised towards a single party.

Since elections in Odisha begin from April 11 and end on April 29, the first phase will see a short campaign but the last two phases would not only witness a long campaign but also focus on the role of money-play, feel political observers.

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