Will Naveen’s Bijepur ‘master stroke’ hit a ‘six’?

... It has now turned into a prestige battle for BJD supremo and Odisha CM Naveen as earlier Nikunj Bihari Singh of erstwhile Janata Dal garnered over 63 per cent votes in Bijepur in 1990

Bhubaneswar: In its tryst with experimentation politics, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has now made Bijepur a political laboratory. The experiment started since 2018 by-election reached the zenith when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik decided to make a poll debut from the assembly constituency in order to make a winning formula for BJD in Western Odisha.

However, the buzz doing round is will CM Naveen Patnaik sweep the Bijepur battle in style to record books?

When Naveen made an electoral debut in 2000 Odisha Assembly Elections from Hinjli, he polled a high of around 65 per cent of total votes cast. And after peaked to a high of 76 per cent vote share in 2009, total votes polled by CM Naveen Patnaik in Hinjli dipped to around 73 per cent in 2014 election.

As Bijepur is going to polls on April 18, the rivet now is not on the winnability of CM Naveen Patnaik, but on margin of Naveen’s victory. This is a prestige battle for the BJD and  Naveen as Nikunj Bihari Singh of erstwhile Janata Dal had garnered a high of over 63 per cent votes from Bijepur seat in 1990. Significantly, the highest votes polled by Janata Dal had a context as a fierce anti-incumbency against 10-year Congress rule gripped the State then.

The BJD since its inception has never attained anywhere near the mark in its electoral journey till date. BJD polled its highest of around 56 per cent in 2018 by-election when Rita Sahu, widow of Congress MLA Subal Sahu, was candidate in Bijepur.  The challenge for BJD and CM Patnaik is now to break the record votes polled by Nikunj Bihari Singh in 1990.

When looked in hindsight, BJD’s poll experiment in 2018 by-elections clearly reveals how the party had made the strategy to field Naveen from Bijepur immediately after defeat in 2017 rural polls to give a check to saffron surge in western Odisha. In pursuance of this strategy, BJD inducted Rita Sahu  and co-opted BJP’s Bargarh President Narayan Sahu to consolidate its votes. Post all manoeuvres, BJD in the by-election increased its vote share to around 56 per cent vis-a-vis of around 31 per cent in 2014. Earlier, BJD had garnered 54 per cent of total votes polled in 2004, when it was in alliance with the BJP.

With all three principal players having announced candidates for Bijepur seat, the battle line has been drawn out. Congress bestows confidence on former minister Ripu Nath Seth. Seth won from Bijepur in 1995 general elections with a vote share of 35 per cent. But Congress candidate Pranaya  Sahu in 2018 by-election could poll a mere 6 per cent votes. Many senior Congress leaders then blamed it on wrong candidate selection, as a section was pressing hard to make Seth Congress nominee.

On the other hand, BJP has fielded Bargarh BJP State Vice-President Aswini Sarangi in Bijepur. The party had a vote share of mere 3.7 per cent in late 1990’s, but the vote share touched over 35 per cent in 2018.

The campaigning will prove very crucial. If opposition Congress and BJP would go for the kill by harping on issues on ground, BJD then have a challenge at hand.