Did fear of 1995 re-run force BJD to script Naveen’s Bijepur debut?

BJD didn't want to repeat the complacency of 1995, when Biju Patnaik-led Janata Dal Government despite coming on the top in the 1992 rural polls went on to lose the polls in 1995.

Bhubaneswar: Notwithstanding BJD’s confidence that has grown by leaps and bounds post the Bijepur by-election win, induction of  Congress strong man and sitting Jharsuguda MLA Naba Kishore Das and Sundergarh MLA Jogesh Singh into BJD, the vote trend and shares in rural polls 2017, however, are apparently dominating BJD electoral strategists’ psyche in  a big way. The strategy to field CM Naveen Patnaik from Western Odisha is a stark indication of this.

Significantly, the thumb rule in electoral politics is a party having a high seat turnover ratio in rural Odisha could go to win the polls. Since Odisha has nearly 80 per cent people dwelling in villages, the rural poll dynamics assume much significance in final poll outcome in State. And if  the seat conversion is done on the basis of rural poll (panchayat) vote shares, the revelation is  – BJP was far ahead of BJD in around 49 seats while BJD dipped to hold on to mere 82 from a high of 108 in 2014. Of the 49 seats that the BJP won, as many as 30 seats were from Western Odisha. It is these numbers that might have alarmed BJD.

Moreover, BJD didn’t want to repeat the complacency of 1995, when Biju Patnaik led Janata Dal Government, despite coming on the top in the 1992 rural polls, went to lose the polls in 1995. Unlike 2017 rural polls where BJD ceded ground to BJP, Biju Patnaik-led Janata Dal in 1992 had romped home with a rise in vote share and seats. What had worried  BJD is as per convention of electoral politics ruling party never had suffered reverses in rural polls. The reason is the Government is not going to fall in panchayat polls. But any reverses in panchayat polls reflect the height of anti-incumbency against a Government. Trends show such anti-incumbency accomplishes the tipping-point in general elections – where change of a government holds an opportunity for voters.

Another worrying reason for BJD could be that BJP might not declare any face for CM candidate in Odisha. Rather, PM Modi would directly pitch into the election like what BJP did in UP, Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. BJP might make the elections in Odisha Modi vs Naveen.  History is evident of this strategy has been a surefire success in Odisha. The return of Congress trouncing Biju Patnaik led Janata Dal in 1995 had been made possible by the then PM PV Narasimha Rao’s strategy of going to polls without any CM. And also Narsimha Rao becoming the Congress face in 1995. The Congress game-plan of Narashima Rao Vs Biju Patnaik paid off. May be this could also be one of the reasons why Naveen chose to go for Bijepur.