Op-Ed: Shah’s 120 Plus, An Unrealistic Target

Bhubaneswar: Odisha figures prominently in the BJP’s scheme of things for the approaching elections. This is obvious from the repeated visits of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and party chief, Amit Shah. Modi had even chosen Cuttack to present his government’s report card on its fourth anniversary last year.

That was a symbolic gesture like the holding of BJP national executive in Bhubaneswar before that. The message being sent out was that Odisha was a priority state for the party heading the country’s ruling coalition. It was supposed to galvanize the BJP cadres in the state while making Odias grateful.

Shah, the hard taskmaster that he is known to be, then set a target of 120 Plus assembly seats for the state unit of the party and asked his core Odisha team led by union minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, widely perceived to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate, to get cracking immediately.

Ever since there has been a visible change in the body language of state BJP leaders. The party, which for all practical purposes has replaced Congress as the main opposition in the state, now seems more than willing to take on the Naveen Patnaik government.  With Pradhan leading the charge it is, by all indications, going to be an all out war.

Yet the target of 120 Plus in a state with just 147 assembly seats appears a bit unrealistic. Though no BJP leader would admit this publicly for obvious reasons, in private conversations many of them agree that the national president is either being too ambitious or has deliberately handed the state leadership a tough task to keep the cadres motivated.

How else do you justify such ambitions of a party which could not even reach double digit figures in the 2009 assembly elections which is contested on its own following the collapse of its more than a decade old alliance with Biju Janata Dal.  In 2014 its assembly tally rose to a face-saving 10 seats while it managed to win a single Lok Sabha seat.

It was clear from the results of these two elections that during the nine years that the party was in power in the state with the BJD, it was piggy-riding its senior partner and its electoral victories were largely on account of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s charisma. Left to its own devices the party failed to put up a credible show.

Notwithstanding the hype around its performance in the last panchayat elections when it won an unprecedented 297 zila parishad seats, the BJP faces an uphill task in the state. The biggest challenge for the party is winning back the confidence of people in western Odisha, the region which accounts for eight of its 10 MLAs and was once considered to be its stronghold.

The party, which had built up itself in this belt notorious for droughts, poverty and starvation deaths by launching popular movements on these issues, seems to have lost track with no conscious effort to bring this crucial plank back into focus. During its years in coalition with the BJD, it had conveniently forgotten these issues and even now it seems queerly reluctant to take them up with the expected zeal. No wonder there is growing popular distrust against it in the region which is crucial to its electoral fortunes in the state.

While the BJP, thus, faces the Herculean task of reviving itself in western Odisha, its presence on the coast remains negligible with just two MLAs representing this politically sensitive belt where the BJD has been ruling the roost. The departure of leaders like Bijay Mohapatra is going to make BJP’s task even more difficult in this region despite the pep talk of Shah&Co. The talk of 120 Plus then seems to be nothing more than poll time rhetoric.

(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)