By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: The rise of BJP as the main opposition party in Odisha has not surprised anyone but most political observers have sought to attribute this to the steep decline in Congress’s fortunes in the state. The argument is that BJP’s vote share has risen almost in direct proportion to the fall in Congress’s share of the ballot.
It is being pointed out that while the BJP improved its vote share in the parliamentary elections from 22 per cent in 2014 to 38.4 per cent in 2019 Congress’s share of votes almost halved from 26.4 to 13.8 per cent. The vote share of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) showed a marginal decrease from 44.8 per cent to 42.8 per cent. The BJP also made significant gains in the assembly elections with its vote share going up from 18.2 per cent in 2014 to 32.5 per cent in 2019.
While it would be unfair to attribute BJP’s rise only to the plummeting fortunes of the Congress in the state the moot question is why did the alienated Congress voters opt for the saffron party instead of Naveen Patnaik-led BJD. One obvious answer is that having opposed the BJD government since the beginning they wanted to vote for a party that they thought was capable of defeating him or at least making a significant dent in his vote-bank.
But the choice of this important segment of voters could also have been influenced by another factor—their growing admiration for Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the new brand of Hindutva that he has been advocating. Unlike VHP and Bajrang Dal, who in their over-zealous drive to promote Hindutva appear to have shut out all others, he has been talking of inclusivity. While he has not compromised on core issues like construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya he seems keen to assure people across communities that India belongs to all of them.
This is what ‘raj dharma” is all about and this is also the right strategy for the BJP to expand its footprint across the country. It has to become socially and politically more inclusive and instil confidence among minority community members that they would not be discriminated against under its government.
It is important for the BJP to ensure that the chunk of Congress voters who switched loyalty in its favour remain with it in the future. For this, the party not only needs to strengthen its organisational base but also address issues which have so far eluded its attention. For example, the party should debunk the myth of Naveen Patnaik government having turned Odisha into the El Dorado of the East.
The truth is that despite all the hype the state is yet to become the coveted investment destination that the government projects it to be. The pace of industrialization has slackened and big companies like POSCO and ArcelorMittal abandoned their projects in the state as they did not find the atmosphere congenial for their growth. Unemployment continues to be a big problem in Odisha which is also facing a financial crunch. For BJP to bring itself into a position where it can throw a realistic challenge to the Naveen Patnaik government it must build up a convincing campaign around these issues and earn the trust of the people.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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)