In politics, accusations and charges fly left, right and centre. This is why, giving a clean governance is a herculean task that too for a long period of two decades. After the unfortunate demise of his father BJD stalwart Naveen Patnaik made a reluctant entry into politics, since that day, he has been striking all the right chords among the voters of Odisha. In the two-decades long political career, he has demonstrated his own style of politics. This is a good case study for all the regional players who aspire to have a long stint in active politics and want to continuously defeat anti-incumbency in their states.
A dominant 25 years of BJD
A fortnight ago, on 26th of December 2022, the Biju Janata Dal completed its 25 years of its formation. Displaying no signs of an easy pass, the BJD President and five-time CM Naveen Patnaik made an audacious statement. With an abject confidence in his party, he claimed that BJD has the potential to serve the people of Odisha for the next 100 years. The BJD-rule pitch for next 100 years may seem to be an exaggerated and hyperbolic statement reeking of arrogance. But it is beyond a doubt the BJD has become a strong force in the History of Odisha politics.
The confidence for making such a bold statement lies in the past success of BJD. The party has virtually ruled Odisha for 22 straight years without a strong opposition to its governance style.
Since its formation, the party has only grown from strength to strength. Led by Naveen Patnaik, the party’s political graph had seen an upward trajectory. The newly formed BJD got immediate success among the voters and won nine seats in the 1998 general election.
In the initial days, BJD had forged an alliance with the saffron party BJP. Back then, it was in the good books of then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee who entrusted Naveen Patnaik with the portfolio of the Ministry of Mining.
In alliance with BJP, it formed a majority government in the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2008, both the ideologically similar parties parted ways. But by then BJD had become a strong regional player which could aim for a single party government. Afterwards, BJD secured 108 legislative seats out of 147 seats in the 2009 Odisha legislative elections. Similarly, it won huge victories in 2014 and 2019 assembly elections winning 117/147 and 112/147 seats respectively.
But the 2019 Lok Sabha elections held parallel with the assembly elections, saw a sharp rise of the saffron party, BJP. With voters showing great confidence in PM Narendra Modi, BJP gained success in eroding BJD’s Lok Sabha success and demonstrating that it is the only plausible alternative to the BJD government in the state.
Notably, BJD’s seat dropped from 20 to 12 from the 21 Lok Sabha seats allocated for the Odisha region.
Naveen Patnaik’s success mantra
BJD President Naveen Patnaik has been Odisha’s CM since 2000. There are several reasons for this unchallenged success of the party. A few among them are as follows.
Firstly, the clean image of Naveen Patnaik is a great positive that goes in favour of the party. In the 22 years of governance, the party has been rarely caught in the storm of major controversies that can be dubbed as anti-India, anti-army or hint of grave corruption happening under the BJD regime.
Secondly, with every year adding to his rich portfolio, Naveen Patnaik is only sharpening his administrative acumen which makes him stand apart from opposition’s CM candidates.
Thirdly, there is the TINA (There is no alternative) factor that plays in his favour. In politics, the absence of credible alternatives plays a huge advantage to the recurrent victories of several political parties. Owing to the ideological similarities, voters mostly find BJD and BJP, its rival in the state, to be on the same page on several occasions which takes away the experimentation of new ideology and its positives.
Fourth is the effective welfare initiatives that the BJD government has taken in the state. For example with just one successful scheme like Mission Shakti, the party has effected nearly 70 lakh women and 6 lakh Self Help groups. The majority of these communities getting welfare benefits have translated to ardent voters of BJD that cuts across caste, religion, region and political lines and is tough to be persuaded by the challenger.
Fifth, the strong organisational structure of BJD is against that of its opposition parties. Both the major national parties, Congress and BJP, for a very long time had invested their political capital elsewhere. This organisational advantage plays a decisive role in the key hours of election.
Sixth is somewhat a further extension of the earlier one. For maintaining friendly terms with the Odisha government, the party leading the Union government didn’t allow the state unit to launch an all out anti-BJD campaign. In want of Rajya Sabha support, the UPA and NDA government at centres didn’t want to throw a relatively centrist Odisha government away from its sphere of influence and hence always tried to mallow down its attack against the BJD government that reflected in every aspect of politics and issues of opposition in the state.
But as they say, all good things do come to an end. Health is catching fast on Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and that is not a good symbol in today’s era of active politics where a leader has to be at his/her personal best to keep its opposition at bay all the time on every issue.
This makes it more important to plan for a future succession plan on which BJD seems to be badly dependent on Naveen Patnaik. Experts have been giving mixed opinions on the success plan and the future course of action for the BJD. While some back Arun Patnaik, Naveen Patnaik’s nephew as the successor of his style of politics. Seeing the past of Naveen Patnaik this outcome can’t be directly ruled out.
Others have been claiming that on account of his ill-health, most of the decisions taken by Odisha CM are inspired or taken by his Secretary VK Pandian, thus making him a good candidate for the future line of succession. Similarly, some experts have backed their odds in favour of the party’s General Secretary Pranav Prakash Das.
Apart from possible successors, experts are of diverse opinions regarding the future of the party. While some experts claim that the party has a strong cadre presence throughout the state and has effective organisational structure, the absence of Naveen Patnaik may have an impact but the party would continue to function as it is in the longer run.
But the contrarian viewpoint is that, the party may forge alliance with BJP, as it had in the past or even merge in the national party owing to the closeness of ideologies of both the parties.
But all of this is still to be unfolded and only time will tell whether BJD will be able to continue as it is even in the absence of Naveen Patnaik or BJP will finally get success to topple its government in the state and end the long run of one of the longest reigning government by a regional party. But with more than 22 years of governance under his name, Naveen Patnaik for sure has created a long and irreplaceable legacy for himself that will take remarkable feats to match.
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