The victory of BJD (Biju Janata Dal) candidate Rudra Maharathi on 3rd October 2021 in Pipili by election with more than 20000 votes against his BJP rival underlines the winning spree of BJD in Odisha for more than twenty years. This victory unequivocally affirms people’s uninterrupted support for leadership of Naveen Patnaik and his Government which has implemented numerous pro-people public policies.
The by election took place on account of BJD MLA Pradip Maharathi’s sad demise and the party fielded his son Rudra Maharathi who polled 6000 more votes than the votes secured by his late father Pradip Maharathi. Many including the BJD members were apprehensive that Rudra Maharathi would not be able to better electoral victory of his father who had won from Pipili constituency multiple times. But Rudra Maharathi getting more votes than his father in the Pipili by proved beyond doubt that BJD is the unchallenged political formation in the State in terms of its record breaking performance in winning election after election and remaining in power for more than two decades.
While on 3rd October 2021 attention was focused on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee winning the by election in West Bengal hardly any coverage was given by media at the national level to BJD’s win in Pipili with an impressive margin. In fact the Pipili by election victory for BJD when combined with its comprehensive victories in the by elections held in Bijepur, Balasore and Tirtol projects the image of Naveen Patnaik as an exemplary leader commanding the support of people and reaffirming his enduring popular acceptability on a recurrent basis. Successive triumphs for the BJD for several decades have created a new electoral record not only in Odisha but in national politics and public life as well.
Many media people told me that the numerous inhabitants of the constituency suffered a lot because of Phany cyclone which ravaged the State in 2019. It was reported that the grievances of the victims of that cyclone remained unaddressed and so BJP would use it to expose BJD. Naveen Patnaik Government immediately swung into action and dissected such a narrative to ascertain the truth and take remedial measures. Such responsive approach to the problems endeared Naveen Patnaik to the people. So in spite of CM not physically visiting Pipili and campaigning in the by election people reposed their faith on him and BJD by voting in favour of Rudra Maharathi whose margin of victory, as stated earlier, was better than his father’s.
Naveen Patnaik Refrained From Campaigning
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik not only refrained from physically campaigning in Pipili he in fact left for Delhi for some other official work almost a week before the polling date. In contrast leaders of BJP including Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan personally visited the constituency and involved himself in the vigorous campaigning for his party. Notwithstanding deployment of such top leaders by BJP in Pipili the BJD prospects for winning the seat remained undiminished.
BJP an Advertisement Party
People of Pipili constituency were persuaded to get tuned to the catalogue of accomplishments of BJD regime and they were assured of the quiet dignity of CM Naveen Patnaik and his record of performance which is more eloquent than the din and noise of BJP described by late BIju Patnaik as an “Advertisement Party”.
Issue Based Politics
The victory of BJD in Pipili by election has a larger significance for the party, State of Odisha and our country. The political resilience of Naveen Patnaik and BJD is unmistakably proved by such all round success in the by elections held in Odisha after the party won 113 seats out of 147 in 2019 elections to the State Assembly and Shri Patnaik assumed office of Chief Minister for the record fifth time. It is instructive to note that in the by elections held in Bijepur Assembly constituency after Naveen Patnaik vacated that seat, the BJD candidate Rita Sahu won by a record margin of almost 98,000 votes. In fact she secured more votes than Naveen Patnaik got in 2019 elections. In the Balasore Assembly Constituency BJD was defeated in 2019 and BJP candidate had won. Following the unfortunate passing away of the BJP candidate by election was held in that constituency in November 2020 and BJD won by defeating the BJP candidate by more than 12,000 votes. Similarly in the by election held in Tirtol the BJD won with an impressive margin. It is striking to note that in none of these elections Chief Minister physically campaigned in contrast to the whirlwind tour of BJP leaders and even Union Ministers who campaigned vigorously. In all these campaigns BJD cited, among others, its accomplishments in saving precious human lives during recurrent cyclones ravaging the State. It underlined the point that its record of disaster management has been admired at the global level and Odisha, in that sense, has been reckoned with at the United Nations for setting an excellent bench mark for dealing with cyclones which are hitting the State more frequently and with greater severity.
Such a persuasive narrative was employed for public reasoning and people get mobilized around it to extend their support to BJD. The narratives of BJP and Congress failed to gain enough traction to counter BJD.
It is also important to note that, unlike many other states in the country, politics in Odisha is largely free from caste, religion or identity factors. In all the by-elections, including that of Pipili not a single leader invoked a caste or religious slogan during the election campaign. No one from the BJP raised a ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan or the issue of the Ram temple, Love Jihad issue or dilution of Article 370 according special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJD’s resounding victory drives home the point that when regional parties define the narrative of politics based on local issues of people, the BJP’s polarising politics and narrative stand exposed and are proven to be hollow. A Chief Minister of a State recently said that rations were earlier taken away and digested by those who used the term Abajan. (It is mostly used by Urdu speaking Muslims to address their fathers). It was interpreted as an articulation to polarise people along religious lines keeping in mind forthcoming elections to the UP Assembly next year. It is impossible to imagine that such a statement would ever be made in Odisha by its leadership. The politics in Odisha has always been centered around issues and not divisive contents.
Therefore, the victory of BJD in Pipili by eis not only a resounding victory for the party and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik but also a victory for issue based politics which can be an effective anti dote to politics determined by majoritarianism and polarisation of people based on religion and sectarianism.
Anchored in its record of achievements and issue based politics BJD in Odisha will contest Panchayat elections next year and prepare its ground for 2024 elections both for the Parliament and State Assembly.
#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.