Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: If the BJP really aspires to emerge as the alternative to the Biju  Janata  Dal  ( BJD ) in Odisha it has to perform well in all parts of the state in these elections. The focus, however, would be on how it fares in coastal and western Odisha, the regions that have been dominating the politics of the state.

Western Odisha is generally considered to be BJP’s stronghold. This is the region where the party had first put up its roots and tasted electoral success. Even today eight of its 10 MLAs come from this belt which the party nurtured assiduously during the years of its growth.

The growth of BJP on the coast has been comparatively stunted. Perhaps its best performance in this belt was when it was ruling the state in tandem with Biju Janata Dal, a coalition that lasted a little over nine years. It was during this period that the party achieved the enviable distinction of winning both Bhubaneswar and Cuttack assembly seats.

Currently the coastal seats it holds are Chilika and Remuna, certainly not as important as Cuttack and Bhubaneswar  in political terms. The party, if it hopes to realise the ambition of ruling the state on its own strength one day, has to penetrate deeper into the coastal belt where currently it also lacks influential leaders. The only leader of significance one can think of is Bijay Mohapatra who was cajoled back into the party recently. Biswabhushan Harichandan, another stalwart who has won both Bhubaneswar and Chilika assembly seats in the past, is now clearly over the hill.

Top BJP leadership, it appears, has been thinking and strategising about spreading the party’s influence in the coastal belt for sometime. The choice of Bhubaneswar as the venue for BJP’s national executive meet in 2017 was significant from this point of view. The party was clearly sending out a message to the coastal voters.

Even more significant was Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s gesture of presenting his government’s report card on the completion of four years in office at a public rally in Cuttack on May 26 last year. Cuttack, the old capital of Odisha, is widely seen as the gateway to the state’s coastal belt. It is still considered to be the most reliable barometer to gauge the mood of state’s electorate. Thus,  Modi’s  rally at Cuttack had a symbolic value.

Such symbolic gestures apart the BJP needs to worker harder and strategise better to bring itself to a level where it can challenge BJD’s stranglehold over the coast. This is a daunting task and needs long term planning.

Meanwhile the party also needs to consolidate its position in western Odisha where it had deviated from core issues like fighting poverty and underdevelopment during the years that it ruled the state in alliance with the BJD. This has taken a toll on its image in the region with people accusing its leaders of engaging in politics of convenience. The BJP should strive harder to win back the confidence of people in this belt where, with a little more effort, it can make major gains in this election.

(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)