Op-Ed: Why Western Odisha Suits BJP More?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: What is it that makes BJP stronger in western Odisha compared to the state’s coastal belt? Right from the beginning the party has been winning more seats in the western region while it has found it difficult to penetrate the coast where currently the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) dominates.

The saffron party did extremely well in the western belt in the recent Lok Sabha elections winning all the five seats at stake in the region. In coastal Odisha it could win only two seats—Bhubaneswar and Balasore. Though these two victories were significant the realisation must have dawned on the party brass that it has to work harder to establish itself as a political force in the region.

One of the most important reasons for lotus sprouting in western Odisha is the demographic complexion of the region which has seen socio-cultural assimilation on a much bigger scale compared to the coast. It has cities like Rourkela which has been a socio-cultural melting pot ever since the state’s first steel plant was set up there. Since Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) offered financially lucrative jobs it attracted people from far and wide. Even today the city’s population is a healthy mix of Odias and non-Odias who have made it their home.

There are other commercial hubs like Jharsuguda where you find such a population mix though not exactly on the same scale. One of the important factors contributing to this socio-cultural amalgamation is the proximity of some of the important western Odisha districts with states like Jharkhand ( formerly part of undivided Bihar) and Chhattisgarh ( which separated from then composite Madhya Pradesh).

People on both sides of the border have not only business ties but also socio-cultural ties and this interaction has also influenced their thinking and their political choices. The BJP, hence, found it a fertile ground to grow. There was a big business class in this region that subscribed to the saffron ideology and also supported the party financially in its days of struggle.

Equally importantly the BJP has been raising important issues like the area’s poverty, backwardness and its proneness to drought. In the eighties the party had launched a sustained campaign on these issues and was able to win the confidence of people who identified with its ideology.

Though the party made a few compromises during the period that it ruled the state in tandem with Biju Janata Dal (BJD) it still remains quite popular in the western belt where it can do much better with a little more hard work. But the coast still remains a huge challenge for the BJP which not only lacks a good organisational base in the area but also credible leaders.

In the last few years the party has made attempts to get a foothold in the region but is yet to establish itself as a political force there. It can hope to do so with leaders like Bijay Mohapatra, Baijayant Panda and Pratap Sarangi being able to carve a niche for themselves in this belt.

(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.)