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Sandeep Sahu

True to form, the Odisha unit of the BJP has latched on to the shock loss of Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram to gloat over the election results in neighbouring West Bengal. True to form again, it has credited the party’s numero uno in the state, Union Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan for the victory of Suvendu Adhikary in the most keenly watched election during this round of Assembly polls.

To be fair to the BJP, including its Odisha unit, there is much to gloat about in the election results in West Bengal for it. For one thing, it has taken a huge leap over its performance in the 2016 Assembly election, increasing its tally nearly 26-fold from a meagre three to as many as 77 in the 294-member Assembly. For another, it has also increased its vote share from a mere 10% to 38.13%. But for a party that coined the slogan ‘Abki Baar, 200 Paar’ in the run up to the election, 2016 is too far back and is hardly the right base to judge its performance in this election against. A more appropriate reference point would be its tally in the 2019 Lok Sabha election when it won 18 out of the 40 seats and polled 40.2 % of the votes.

Notwithstanding the fact that the dynamics of parliamentary elections are different from Assembly elections, however, the point to note is that the party trumped the TMC in as many as 121 assembly segments in the LS polls. It is clear that it was this performance that made the party to aim higher and raised its hopes of coming to power in the state. It was obviously this hope that spawned the ‘200 Paar’ slogan, which has ended up as a bad dream with the party unable to reach even three figures. Besides, the defeat of Didi doesn’t change anything. She remains the unquestioned leader of the party and has just been sworn in as the Chief Minister of West Bengal for the third time in a row – and with an even bigger tally than she won in 2016.

Post the election results in West Bengal, state BJP leaders have said the party’s ‘Mission Purvoday’ was well on course and Odisha is the next in line. But its experience of the last few years should convince itself that if Mamata Banerjee was a tough nut to crack, Naveen Patnaik is an even tougher one. A simple comparison would reveal why. The party’s ‘200 Paar’ slogan resulted in a quantum jump for it from just three to 77 in Bengal while a similar ‘Mission 120’ slogan in Odisha could take it no farther than 23 in the 2019 Assembly election from just 10 in 2014. Rather than gloat over the loss of Mamata, the BJP state unit should be asking itself some tough questions. The foremost among such questions is why has it failed to dent the support base of the ruling BJD despite the fact that it had much going for itself in the last election: anti-incumbency against BJD after four successive terms in office, massive disenchantment of farmers (who constitute nearly 60% of the population), serious corruption charges, several cases of atrocities against women involving ruling party leaders, anger among rural women over the state government’s unabashed promotion of liquor, the near-complete irrelevance of the Congress and so on. The BJP strategy of communal and caste polarization, which worked to an extent in West Bengal, is certain to come a cropper in Odisha, if the electoral history of the state is anything to go by. Hence, the party must tailor its strategy in Odisha taking ground realities into consideration rather than repeat something that has worked elsewhere.

It should also ask itself why it has failed to win a single by-election since the 2019 polls. The loss in Balasore Sadar, in particular, should be an eye opener for the BJP because it had, like the Assembly elections in April, 2019, everything going for it. Madan Mohan Datta, whose death necessitated the by-poll, was a popular leader and had done nothing in the year and half since being elected in the Assembly election that would make him unpopular. The party fielded his son Manas as the candidate, hoping to ride a sympathy wave in favour of his late father. On its part, the BJD chose to field Swarup Kumar Das, which led to intense bickering in the district unit of the party and the exit of three-time MLA Jeevan Pradeep Das from the party. That the BJP still lost the by-election should have forced the party to do some serious soul-searching on what went wrong. But it did nothing of the sort.

There are two things that ail the BJP in Odisha. First, it has refused to go full throttle against the BJD, as it did against the TMC in West Bengal. Instead, it has chosen to play footsie with the ruling party since the 2019 elections, inevitably inviting charges of ‘foes in Bhubaneswar, friends in Delhi’. The party must realise that this ‘running with the hare, hunting with the hounds’ strategy is not going to take it anywhere and take Naveen and BJD head on, if it nurtures any hope of coming to power in the next election. Second, it must stop banking on recruits from disenchanted leaders from other parties and build its organizational strength in the state, which alone would enable it to fight the well-oiled BJD organizational machinery and its super-efficient election management.

(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.)

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