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Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Announcement of the poll schedule by the Election Commission has set the political temperature soaring in the state. With the Commission staggering the polls and Odisha set to vote in four phases stretching from April 11 to April 29, one can expect a long and acrimonious campaign.

The escalating war of words between Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is only a foretaste of what lies ahead. The two sides, which in the recent past have clashed over a number of issues, are now targeting each other with campaigns like “Jabab Maguchhi Odisha” and “Hak Maguchhi Odisha”.

The first one is a BJP campaign that seeks to highlight the alleged failures of BJD government with focus on extremely controversial issues like the spiralling graph of crime against women and growing joblessness among the youth. The saffron party, high on confidence since the last panchayat elections when it bagged a record 297 zila parishad seats, has also slammed the Naveen government for trying to hijack a number of central schemes and projecting them as its own on the one hand and cussedly refusing to adopt Modi government’s initiatives like Ayushman Bharat on the other.

BJP’s strategy has worked to the extent that now there is a growing realisation among people in the countryside that some of the welfare measures that the state government had hitherto been taking the entire credit for, were actually heavily subsidised by the Centre. The saffron party, for example, had sometime ago run a prolonged campaign to educate people on the budgetary arithmetic of the cheap rice scheme which the state government claims to be its flagship welfare project. The party put up posters and banners giving details of the central subsidy for the scheme and comparing it with the contribution of the state government.

The aggressive campaign of the BJP not only surprised the state government and the ruling party but also pushed them on the backfoot. Similar myths created by the ruling party with regard to some other schemes were also exploded. Simultaneously the BJP launched its own campaign to reach out to the people and make them aware of the major schemes and achievements of Modi government.

If politics is all about perception then at the moment the BJP seems to be winning the battle of perceptions in the state. It has successfully leveraged the hype generated by India’s recent airstrikes across the LOC. Even the capture of wing commander, Abhinandan was an opportunity to connect with the masses by appealing to their patriotic sentiments.

In fact, there are those who think that the Pulwama attack was a political windfall for Modi government which was looking for an opportunity to whip up nationalist passions across the country to shore up its political fortunes which had been dealt a blow by the results of the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The party had also suffered some embarrassing by-poll defeats in Uttar Pradesh, the state which matters the most to the major contenders in these elections and which had contributed significantly to Modi’s anointment as the Prime Minister of the country in 2014 by giving the BJP as many as 71 Lok Sabha seats.

So the elections have been announced at an opportune time for the BJP with nationalist fervour still running high in the country. In fact the challenge for the party and its top leaders is to sustain this mood till the voting day. With polling well spaced out this time that is not going to be easy. Under the circumstances each Lok Sabha seat counts for the BJP which is pinning great hopes on Odisha. Though whether or not it will be able to dislodge Naveen Patnaik government in the state is anyone’s guess what seems almost certain is that the party will increase its Lok Sabha tally in Odisha.

From all accounts even the top BJP leadership is more concerned about raising its Lok Sabha count in the state and is accordingly tuning its strategy. The BJD, on the other hand, seems equally determined to counter the saffron charge on its citadels. No wonder poll rhetoric on both sides is getting increasingly acerbic.

(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)

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