Odisha has been under the rule of Naveen Patnaik led Biju Janata Dal for quite a while now. The incumbent Chief Minister has been winning elections since 2000 and this year is his eighteenth year in the CM seat. BJD is seen as a dominant force in Odisha considering it has stopped the advance of Congress since 2000s. In these 18 years there have been times when BJD has won elections in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been a part of the NDA and has also fought against it. It has managed to win against the BJP and Congress in the 2009 state elections and in 2014 too it managed to win 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats as well as 117 out of the 147 Odisha Vidhan Sabha seats. These victories might have been huge wins for Naveen Patnaik and BJD but if the current mood and signs are taken into account chances are that the BJD is likely to face mounting problems in the elections to come.
In the panchayat elections held in the state in 2017 BJP had emerged as the second largest party in the state beating Congress even while BJD had won the majority seats comfortably. According to the results declared by the State Election Commission (SEC), the BJD managed to win 473 while the BJP had won in 297 of the 846 Zilla Parishad seats. This is a huge result considering that in the panchayat elections of 2012, BJD had won 654 seats, followed by the Congress which had won 128 and BJP had been restricted to just 36 of the total 854 seats. These results from the 2017 Panchayat elections should have worried the BJD and its leaders since BJP seems to have made inroads into the villages of Odisha. The results have also made clear that the Congress should no more be the chief cause of concern for BJD as BJP has taken the place of the primary opposition in the state.
When Odisha faces both the Lok Sabha and the state assembly elections in 2019, BJD will also face the issues of anti-incumbency and poor growth of infrastructure in the state. The people of the state are looking for a change and sadly the BJD lacks a second face which is as popular as Naveen Patnaik. After years of Patnaiks’s rule in the state, disgruntlement seems to have set in the hearts of people of the state. Education sector has been badly hit under BJD’s rule in the state, in the last two years alone more than 828 government schools have been shut down mostly due to low student enrolment. A deficit of proper infrastructure and absence of competent teachers have further impacted the performance and image of schools. The Odisha government itself admitted that there are 8,547 primary schools and upper primary schools in which are attended by 25 or even lesser number of students. Schemes like the mid-day meal might have brought and retained students in the schools but the quality of education has further deteriorated. The state of higher education is even worse where more than half of the faculty positions are lying vacant.
Health is another sector which has been severely impacted under the BJD rule. The BJD’s policy of providing insurance to all the 3.5 crore residents of the state has resulted in the mushrooming of private hospitals and clinics. There are almost no efficient government run hospitals in the tribal areas in Odisha all thanks to its policy of withdrawal from an important sector of governance. Navin Patnaik through his policies has promoted private run institutions in both health and education sectors which converts to more business minded people. This has also made many ministers and MLAs being involved in scams and fraud cases. With the passage of time Naveen seems to have relaxed his stance on corrupt officials and ministers, a symbol of his weakening grip on the party. This factor too will work in the favour of the BJP when it begins its election campaign ahead of the polls.
The new posters ahead of the election season featuring Naveen Patnaik show him smiling, in an attempt to change the perception of the CM and the party. It is a feeble attempt nonetheless. The people of Odisha are angry with the BJD and the BJP should easily be able to capitalise on these lines. 2019 will be a tough year for the Congress at the centre and the same could be said for BJD in Odisha. Both of these parties will have to work hard in order to stay relevant in their political spheres. While Congress might have a tough time in the centre the worries for BJD and Naveen Patnaik would be no less as they are fighting to save a long held position in the state. The important thing to be noted here is that both the Congress and BJD are being threatened by the BJP at the national and state level respectively. While Congress can boast of having allies at the centre, BJD lacks them in the state. An alliance with Congress too is out of question considering the years of bad reputation Congress has garnered in Odisha will further harm BJD in the elections.