The spectacular victory of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the elections held in for Zilla Parishads and Urban Bodies (Notified Area Councils, Municipalities and Corporations) across the State of Odisha affirmed its unprecedented pro-incumbency spanning twenty three years. This is unprecedented in the annals of electoral history of Odisha and India. What is most noteworthy and distinguishing about this victory is the crushing defeat of a mighty national party like BJP as also of the Congress at the hands of BJD which is a regional political formation in the State of Odisha.
BJP Can be Defeated by Regional Parties in several States
The overwhelming victory of BJD is splendidly demonstrated from a plain reading of the seats won by all the three parties. While BJD won a massive 766 out of 853 Zilla Parishad seats, the BJP won only in 41 and Congress in 37 seats. BJP’s crushing defeat and the fact that it occupied a distant second position in relation to BJD stood in sharp contrast to 300 plus Zilla Parishad seats it had won in 2017. Such downfall for the national party blowing its trumpet as the biggest party in the world has prompted many commentators and analysts to observe that the BJP can be effectively checkmated not by national parties but by regional parties in several States of our country.
This assessment sounds credible from the results of elections held on 24th March 2022 for the aforementioned urban local bodies of Odisha. The results of such elections declared on 26th March revealed the unassailable position of BJD over BJP and Congress. Out of total of 108 urban bodies BJD registered thumping victory in 76 and BJP and Congress relegated to distant second and third positions by winning only 16 and 7 seats respectively. Independents could win only in 9!seats
In the categories of Councillors /Corporators while BJD has won 95 seats, BJP, Congress and Independents have won in 6, 4 and 3 seats respectively.
Five years back in 2017 BJP had secured good number of seats in several urban bodies. The drastic decline of BJP from a respectable position it secured for itself by winning reasonably good number of seats in 2017 speaks volumes for its electoral debacle in the State of Odisha in spite of its recent impressive success in winning UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa and forming Government in those States.
Odisha CM's Tweet
Odisha Chief Minister and BJD President Naveen Patnaik in a tweet in Odia language stated that the huge victory of BJD proves the point that people at the ward and grassroots levels have renewed their trust and faith on the party and showered their blessings and affection on it in an abundant manner.
The overwhelming victory of BJD owe a lot to the support of other backward classes who, according to, political analysts,stood by BJD. The policy stance of Naveen Patnaik and concrete measures adopted by him in the recent past for inclusion of OBCs in several aspects of governance and positive stand for caste census have mobilised them for social justice which is the key agenda of BJD.
BJD's Victory affirms Gender Dimensions and Inclusive Politics
It is instructive to note that the smashing victory of BJD over BJP and Congress has become a routinized aspect of Odisha politics continuously for more than two decades. Such victory is not to be understood as a mere electoral outcome in terms of seats won and vote shares secured. It has other deeper dimensions which are of profound significance as much for society and polity of Odisha as for the whole of India confronting divisive and polarised narratives as part of a political persuasion of a national party since 2014 to exclude minorities from the processes of political representation and empowerment.
Victory for Candidates of Minority Communities
It is educative note that among BJD's victorious candidates for Zilla Parishads and Urban Bodies there are several women candidates belonging to minority communities and particularly the Muslim community the percentage share of its population in the total population of the Odisha is below two per cent. This is quite striking in the context of the BJP not fielding a single Muslim candidate in the general elections held in 2014 and 2019 and in the recently conducted elections in UP which has 20 per cent Muslims in its total population of almost 20 crores.
Victory for Women Candidates
The other distinguishing aspect of BJD victory is that in its long list of winning candidates more than 60 per cent are women. The impressive number of women candidates who have emerged victorious are much more than 50 per cent of the total seats which are reserved for women. It means that BJD fielded women candidates in more than 50 per cent seats. Such large number of victorious women candidates in the BJD list clearly bring out its commitment to give more opportunities to women for joining the electoral fray and ensuring their greater representation in democratically elected urban local bodies. It exemplifies BJD's resolve to uphold women's political empowerment wholly and substantially. Such unflinching commitment to women’s empowerment flows from incessant work done at the grassroots level by Naveen Patnaik to form self help groups and enlist in their scope eight million women who get empowered by multiple public policy interventions of Shri Patnaik’s regime during the last two decades. The significant presence of women in the victory list of BJD in the Zilla Parishad and Urban body elections affirm the statement of Naveen Patnaik uttered on the occasion of BJD'S Foundation Day last year that women of Odisha constitute the mainstay of the party.
This gender dimension of BJD victory is indeed illuminating, instructive and inspiring. While political analysts and commentators flag the massive victory of BJD and crushing defeat BJP and Congress they remain oblivious to the significant number of BJD women trouncing their opponents and giving a much needed gender dimensions to the political persuasions of BJD and its leadership. In fact, the zilla parishads formed by BJD in all thirty districts of the State has Presidents seventy per cent of whom are women. Such large scale representation of women at the grassroots and urban bodies have made the democratically elected institutions at that level as nurseries for training women to plunge into rough and tumble of politics and public life and address pressing problems of governance from the perspective of women.
It is worth noting that the results for elections held on 24th March 2022 to chose mayor for the cities of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Berhampur showed unmistakable victory of BJD candidates for the aforementioned posts. Out of three victorious BJD candidates for three posts of mayors two are women - Sulochana Das for Bhubaneswar and Sanghamitra Dalai for Berhampur.
In 2019 general elections Naveen Patnaik had fielded BJD's women candidates in seven Lok Sabha seats- thirty three per cent of 21 Lok Sabha seats of the State . That was a historic and trendsetting decision for the whole country. Out of seven women candidates five had won.
Larger Meaning of BJD's Victory
The success of more women in the zilla Parishad and Urban body elections in Odisha offers hope that more of them would be enlisted in the political processs. This is the larger meaning of the massive victory of BJD by inflicting stunning defeat on BJP and Congress in these elections . Such victory is of national significance. At a time when BJP is registering victory in several States it is getting defeated in a big way by a regional party like BJD. It means that with committed support of women and the large sections of the electorate an inclusive politics eschewing polarising narratives can counter the politics of exlusion and uphold the constitutional vision of India. This is the larger meaning of BJP victory over BJD in the recently held elections for Zilla Parishad and Urban bodies in Odisha.
#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.