Op-Ed: BJP Must Break BJD’s Stranglehold On the Coast

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: With five out of BJP’s eight Lok Sabha seats coming from western Odisha it is clear that the party’s growth in the state has been lopsided. While it has strengthened itself further in the western belt, its traditional stronghold, it has not been able to make any significant inroads into the coast which is politically the most important region in the state.

The party which established its supremacy in western Odisha with victories on Bargarh, Sambalpur, Kalahandi, Bolangir and Sundergarh Lok Sabha seats could win just two seats—Bhubaneswar and Balasore—in the coastal belt. Besides given the cosmopolitan character of Bhubaneswar it can only be technically described as a coastal seat.

The major losses on the coast that would rile the party for a long time to come have been on seats such as Kendrapara where the party fielded a seasoned campaigner who was capable of changing the political history of the constituency which has never elected a BJP leader. This contest was also symbolic in the sense that BJP candidate, Baijayant Panda was fighting the entire might of the state government. It was, for all practical purposes, a battle between him and chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, his friend turned foe.

Had Panda won he would have made history and his victory would have been a big boost to the BJP on the coast where it has always played second fiddle to BJD and Congress. He waged a valiant battle but that was not enough to secure him a victory. He lives to fight another day.

The loss in Kendrapara would linger in BJP’s memory. It should also serve as a reminder to the saffron party that its leaders need to roll up their sleeves and work harder to bring BJP in a position to challenge the ruling BJD on the coast because the keys to power lie here. It was this realization that had made Prime Minister, Narendra Modi choose Cuttack, the gateway to the coast, to present his government’s report card on the completion of four years of his first term in office.

The BJP lacks both capable leaders and a strong organizational base in the coastal region where Congress’s long reign was brought to an effective end by the BJD nearly two decades ago. The Naveen Patnaik-led party now has a stranglehold over the area which any challenger will find hard to shake. Hence BJP, if it is really keen to expand its base in the region, must have a clear cut strategy.

One of the key elements of this strategy should be highlighting popular issues and problems which the BJD, given the compulsions of being the ruling party, has not been able to address effectively. The BJP had adopted this strategy successfully to strengthen its base in western Odisha where it has reaped rich political dividends over the years. It can be equally successful on the coast if it follows the same formula with dogged determination. But this ambition cannot be realized without dedicated work by a team of talented leaders.

(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.)