Column: Bijepur, A question of Credibility

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Battle lines have been drawn in Bijepur with Election Commission announcing the by-poll schedule for the western Odisha constituency made famous by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s victory from there in the recent election. The bye-election has been necessitated by Patnaik’s decision to quit the seat in favour of his pocket-borough of Hinjili from where he had contested simultaneously.

Patnaik’s decision of giving up the Bijpur seat was bound to disappoint his voters in the constituency and therein lies the hope for his rivals as they gear up for the by-poll battle. The chief minister, as we all know, had taken a conscious decision to contest simultaneously from Hinjili and Bijepur with a view to boosting his party’s prospects in western Odisha.

It did help but not to the extent that he might have expected. While the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) did well in the assembly election all the five Lok Sabha seats in the region went to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It was only expected that Patnaik would step down as the MLA from Bijepur after his election. So the disappointment of his constituents was also expected.

However, now that it has become clear that Patnaik’s candidature from Bijpur was only a strategic move and he never actually wanted to retain the seat the opposition might try to project this as a case of betrayal. Both BJP and Congress, the main rivals of BJD, would now be telling the people of the constituency that the chief minister has only played with their sentiments and tried to use them for his political gains.

The big question is whether the opposition will succeed in convincing the people of Bijepur that the chief minister has betrayed them. It will depend as much on their propaganda skills as on their own credibility. While the Congress has already been thoroughly discredited and would be in the by-poll fray only for the sake of marking its presence as a national party the BJP, too, suffers from a lack of credibility as in the last twenty years or so it has never raised issues pertaining to western Odisha, let alone Bijepur, convincingly.

From 2000 to 2009 when the BJP ruled the state in tandem with the BJD it never sought to raise issues such as poverty and backwardness of western Odisha as this might have upset its senior coalition partner. The party even did not protest against the lack of any substantial financial powers with the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) even though it had campaigned vigorously for grant of autonomy to the council when there was a Congress government in the state.

That being BJP’s track record it will find it hard to convince the people of Bijepur about its own sincerity in ensuring the development of the constituency which is part of drought-prone Bargarh district of western Odisha. The BJD, on the other hand, might ask its rival to turn the mirror inwards before raising accusing fingers at the chief minister who, soon after quitting the Bijepur seat, had sought to assure the people of the constituency that its development will remain his priority irrespective of who represents it in the state assembly. One has to see whether people believe him or his rivals?

(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.)