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Historic triumph of BJD in Odisha's Bijepur Assembly by-election assumes national significance

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 26, Oct 2019, 18:57 pm IST | UPDATED: 27, Oct 2019, 9:54 am IST

Historic triumph of BJD in Odisha's Bijepur Assembly by-election assumes national significance

Barely four months after registering an impressive victory in winning 112 of 147 seats of the State Assembly for a record fifth term Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik spearheaded Biju Janata Dal (BJD) campaign in Bijepur by elections held on 21st October 2019. He remained the moving force behind the campaign as also the spectacular victory of BJD candidate Shrimati Rita Sahu on 24th October 2019 with a margin of almost 98,000 votes. It constitutes the highest ever victory margin for any MLA in the electoral history of Odisha.

Such record breaking performance of BJD candidate in Bijepur constituency of western Odisha underline the unprecedented supremacy of Shri Naveen Patnaik in politics and public life of the whole State. It also underlines his influential role in national affairs in shaping the contours of issue based secular and inclusive politics. Therefore, Bijepur by election victory assumes significance not only for Odisha but whole of India particularly in the context of the electoral narrative set by Shri Patnaik centering around developmental issues which are critical for transformation of the region and security and empowerment of people.

In this context it is worthwhile to quote Shri Rajesh Ramachandran, Editor in Chief of the Tribune, the prestigious daily published from Chandigarh. In his article 'Beyond Manufactured Identities' published on 21st June 2019 in the Tribune he perceptively wrote "Naveen Patnaik has never practised the politics of caste or communal polarisation, nor does he belong to a numerically significant caste group, nor does Odisha have a sizeable Muslim population.Yet, he wins election after election defeating the BJP twice. That ought to be the new normal in Indian politics: victory for transformational politics."

The massive drubbing received by BJP and Congress at the hands of BJD in the Bijepur by elections affirm the victory of 'transformational politics' and rejection of web of false narratives woven around issues which have nothing to do with development. A better appreciation of Bijepur victory in the context of the nation requires that we analyse the election results of Maharashtra and Haryana where Assembly elections were orgainsed on 21st October 2019 when Bijepur elections were held.

Lack of clear majority for BJP in Maharashtra and Haryana meant disapproval of people of its muscular nationalism

During campaigning in Maharashtra and Haryana for electing representatives to the Assemblies of the respective States the ruling BJP aggressively pitched for nationalism as its main plank for getting the mandate of people and proclaimed that it scrapped the special status for Jammu and Kashmir provided in Article 370 to fully integrate Jammu  and Kashmir with India. While doing so it did not highlight the basic issues of people so painfully manifested in rural distress, agrarian crises, massive economic slowdown, worst unemployment crisis in last forty five years and above all the growing desperation of people caused by failures to meet the requirements of aspirational youth. The campaign of BJP in those two States to polarize people in the name of religion and National Registry for Citizens to identify the so called infiltrators to India, professing a particular faith, from neighboring countries for the purpose of getting the votes of people from majority community did not succeed. In fact contrary to exit polls which predicted massive win for BJP in both Maharashtra and Haryana the actual results showed the decline of BJPs seat in both the States where people disenchanted with polarization and communal politics at the cost of their welfare and empowerment voted in a manner which did not result in majority for BJP in the respective Assemblies.

None other than Prime Minister Shri Modi repeatedly invoked Article 370 issue in both the States and challenged his main political opponent, the Congress party, to make an announcement to restore special status to Kashmir by bringing Article 370 back to the
Constitution. The election results in Maharashtra and Haryana clearly proved that such attempts by Prime Minister and BJP President to sidetrack basic issues of people back fired and the party did not get majority in those States. The election results there sent a strong message that false narrative ignoring basic issues of people would not be acceptable to the electorate. Had the opposition campaign been more coherent and vigorous the loss for BJP would have been truly devastating. Retired professor Prakash Upadhyaya insightfully observed that people voted for Congress in both Haryana and Maharashtra in spite of near absence of campaign by that party in those States. If it had commenced its campaign six months before the elections by putting together a unified team then clearly the results could have been entirely in their favour.

The impressive results in the Maharashtra elections for Nationalist Congress Party led by Shri Sharad Pawar in spite of cases slapped on him by the Enforcement Directorate of the Union Government a month before the elections unmistakably prove the point that vendetta politics would not go down well with people.

Success of BJP in Maharashtra and Haryana was celebrated in subdued mood

In spite of overt celebrations by BJPs  top leadership in its headquarters in New Delhi following the declarations of results and with the hope that the party would form the Government in both Maharashtra and Haryana, deep inside the rank and file there was very subdued feeling of success. It was evident in the recitation, in a low pitch voice, of Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogan which remains central to the aggressive  and muscular nationalism of BJP. It may be recalled that while addressing a rally during election campaign in Maharashtra Shri Amit Shah asked people to recite Bharat Mata ki Jai in a such a loud voice that it would be heard in distant Haryana where Prime Minister Modi was busy in seeking mandate of the people in favour of BJP.

After the declaration of results when Shri Shah along with Prime Minister Modi went to BJP headquarters to celebrate the victory, people gathered there responded saying a feeble voice when he chanted Bharat Mata ki jai. Seeing and sensing that people were reciting in a low pitch voice Shri Amit Shah asked them to be more energetic and recite it loudly and with vigour. The chanting of Bharat Mata ki Jai without any enthusiasm by people was indicative of the disenchantment with so called electoral victory.

BJP never invoked nationalism and Article 370 in Bijepur by election and engineered false narrative to malign Naveen Patnaik

It is revealing that the top leadership of the BJP which in a calibrated and calculated manner used aggressive nationalism and scrapping of special status for Jammu and Kashmir embodied in Article 370 as its main plank to garner votes in Maharashtra and Haryana, it never did so in Bijepur bye election in western Odisha. Its top leaders such as Union Cabinet Minister Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister Shri Pratap Sadangi and Shri Baijayant Panda who campaigned for BJP candidate in that constituency never even once invoked nationalism or Article 370. They like other top leaders of BJP who manufactured a false narrative in Maharashtra and Haryana, engineered a concocted narrative that Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik betrayed the people of Bijepur Assembly constituency by resigning from it and retaining Hinjili constituency a few months after he was elected from both the constituencies and thereby necessitating another by election in Bijepur. While repeating the concocted narrative Shri Pradhan and Shri Sadangi conveniently ignored the law that a candidate who wins in two constituencies would have to resign from one as per Representation of People Act 1951 and by following the same law Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, who was elected both from Vadodara and Varanasi parliamentary constituencies, retained Varanasi parliamentary seat and resigned from Vadodara. Another false narrative manufactured by BJP  in Bijepur was that the promise made by Chief Minister to build Gangadhar Meher Irrigation project by investing more than Rs. 1000 crores has not been implemented so far and, thereby, letting down and deceiving the people of the constituency.

The fact that survey for the project has been completed and global tenders have been floated for constructing such a huge project was deliberately and conveniently wrapped up in the cover of falsehood. Yet another false narrative of BJP in Bijepur that the Chief Minister failed to fructify his promise of 2018 that huge Parvatigiri Drinking Water Project would be implemented in the constituency did not go down well with the people as they knew that survey work has been completed and tenders have been floated as part of the measures to implement it in totality.

The repeat of such fake and manufactured narratives in election meetings and panel discussions in television channels by BJP leaders and their spokespersons was anchored on Goebbellsian propaganda strategy that with constant repetition of ideas no matter whether the ideas are true or not people can be made to believe them. Such falsification of reasoning with a view to seeking mandate of the people did not succeed in Bijepur because Biju Janata Dal leaders and workers who worked with exemplary team spirit and in a coherent manner exposed the blatant lies both in numerous hugely attended public meetings during election campaigns and television channels.

Importance of regional parties are reinforced with added vigour by election results in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bijepur

The most significant lesson learnt from these elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bijepur is that regional parties have assumed critical significance in remaining grounded and taking up the peoples causes without in any way diverting their attention on the basis of false narratives. These election results also show that more than national parties the regional parties are vanguards of people's interests and federal framework enshrined in the Constitution. It is indeed striking to note that most of the regional parties in India are secular and their politics is determined by issues affecting the people. Therefore, these  election results reaffirm the resilience and success of regional parties in taking forward the cause of transformational politics based on secularism and welfare of people.

In Bijepur the defining narrative was based on people's issues

The defining narrative in Bijepur by election of 2019 was centered around basic issues of people. The fact that the BJP did not raise the issue of muscular nationalism and Article 370 speaks volumes for the triumph of narrative set by Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik and Biju Janata Dal by taking into account the ground realities.

Mo Sarkar scheme convinced people that the Government is genuinely getting oriented towards people

In fact the Mo Sarkar or My Governmen scheme of the Chief Minister based on the cardinal principle that people are the real masters of the politicians and Government officials and it is the elected representatives and officials of the Government who would chase the complaints of people and not other way round and ensure their hassle free access to public services made a huge impact on the minds of people across the State. Bijepur people also deeply felt that BJD Government has become more people centric in ensuring qualitative transformation in their lives. Such remarkable turnaround in public policy perspective of the Government providing that even the Chief Minister would speak to ten people every week over phone to find out how they were treated in Government offices when they visited to get their grievances redressed constituted a first of its kind approach in our country to ensure effective and good governance at the centre of which remain qualitative transformation in the lives of people.

Five Ts have generated hope for transformational politics

The Five Ts -Technology, Transparency, Timeliness, Team spirit and Transformation- which remain at the core of such an approach has the potentiality of bringing about revolutionary changes in transforming what Mahatma Gandhi had called 'Swaraj to Suraj'. The officials  entrusted with the responsibilities to implement five Ts including its Secretary Shri Karthikeyan Pandian and Chief Secretary of the State Shri Asit Tripathy during their visits to different parts of the State to understand the ground realities for implementing Five Ts had food with common people in Aahar Centres, Government Food Outlets, where they purchased food by paying Rupees five only per head. It has sent a constructive message that officials howsoever high they might be should remain in tune with people's lives and accordingly behave as the servants of people. Such historic and unprecedented initiatives to bring about transformation in the governance and life of people became the dominant discourse in Odisha public life and it made Bijepur people feel that the false narrative of BJP was presented essentially to mislead them.

Historic triumph of BJD in Bijepur assumes national significance

The historic triumph of Shrimati Rita Sahu in Bijepur by elections with a record margin of almost 98 000 votes which is the first of its kind in the electoral history of Odisha in the context of MLAs is a triumph of politics based on people's issues and a resounding and comprehensive defeat of politics based on false and misleading narratives. While false narrative of BJP based on muscular and exclusive nationalism and Article 370 has brought down its numbers in Maharashtra and Haryana, its false and fake narrative in Bijepur completely ignoring people's issues has resulted in its total defeat.

At a time when majoritarianizm is peddled based on the basis of falsehood and polarisation is made the main plank to divide people and get mandate for electoral success in large parts of the country, the Bijepur by election results in Odisha represent a refreshing success of politics based on people's issues. It is a victory for republican spirit, constitutionalism and secular politics which accord primacy to people irrespective of their identities be it religious, linguistic and ethnicity. India of twenty first century requires such politics and political persuasion to uphold its diversity, pluralism and multi layered federalism which are enshrined in the Constitution and constitutes the secular way of life.

The victory in Bijepur by election by a historic margin by the BJD is, therefore, of national significance and all parties wedded to the ideals of the Constitution, secularism, composite culture and the politics of reconciliation and understanding should derive lessons from this remarkable victory. Eventually India which is unfortunately getting polarised by the politics of division and majoritariansim critically requires the healing touch of issue based politics which unifies people and fosters camaraderie and understanding. The victory in Bijepur is a victory for such politics which is of national and abiding significance.

#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.