Column: A Question Of Credibility

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The mammoth victory of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, Rita Sahu in the just concluded assembly by-poll in Bijepur has re-affirmed the ruling party’s electoral supremacy in the state. While it comes as yet another proof of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s invincibility it has dealt a blow to BJP’s ambitions of projecting itself as an alternative to BJD.

It was a landslide win by any yardstick. Rita trounced her nearest BJP rival, Sanat Gartia by around 98000 votes, a record in Odisha’s electoral history. The win eclipsed Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik’s victory margin of 57,122 in Bijepur only a few months ago, the seat had fallen vacant following his resignation as he opted to retain his pocket borough of Hinjili in his native Ganjam.

The victory of Rita appeared all the more convincing as the Opposition this time had no dearth of issues against ruling BJD and its government. The biggest issue, by far, was the chief minister’s decision to give up the Bijepur seat in favour of Hinjili which both BJP and Congress tried to hype up and project as an act of betrayal.

The campaign, however, failed to cut much ice with the voters who, it appeared, knew right from the day that Patnaik filed his nomination papers from the constituency along with Hinjili that he was not going to retain the seat. Like most political observers, they, too, realized that his candidature from the constituency was more of a strategic move aimed at boosting his party’s prospects in western Odisha in the general elections.

But they were not complaining as basking even temporarily in the glory of being the voters of chief minister’s constituency was a good enough reward for them. Never in its history had Bijepur received the kind of attention that Patnaik’s candidature and victory gave it even if it happened to be short-lived.
Even more important for the people was Patnaik’s promise of looking after the constituency as his own at the time of his resignation. They put their trust in his words and voted overwhelmingly in favour of his handpicked candidate, Rita Sahu in the by-poll.

Opposition’s campaign failed to carry conviction because of its own poor track record. While the Congress, whose candidate expectedly lost his deposit, has been thoroughly discredited and is currently going through one of its worst phases in the state, the BJP has failed to project itself as a viable alternative to the BJD. The party appears to have suffered a loss of credibility by failing to convincingly raise the issues pertaining to western Odisha of which Bijepur is a part. The grip of the party on the region, which once used to be its stronghold, seems to be slipping because of its inability to build up popular movements on issues like poverty and under-development.

These problems have plagued western Odisha for a long time. The situation has not shown any significant improvement in the last two decades with droughts becoming recurrent and poverty forcing people to migrate to other states in search of jobs. The BJP, which had struck deep roots in the region in the 80s and 90s by highlighting these issues through popular movements, appeared to compromise on them when it ruled the state in tandem with the BJD between 2000 and 2009. That severely eroded its credibility in the eyes of the people in this belt.

If the party still managed to win all the five Lok Sabha seats in western Odisha in the recent elections the credit should go entirely to the individual appeal of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The state BJP is yet to regain its credibility and till that happens it cannot aspire to challenge the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD.

(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)