The announcement of the four-phase election schedule for Odisha, a first in the electoral history of the state, by the Election Commission of India on Sunday, 10 March, came as a surprise for many. This sparked speculation on who it would benefit. The Election Commission of India attributed the spread-out schedule for the state to the Left Wing Extremism areas and the availability of the Central Armed Police Forces.
The polling for 21 Lok Sabha seats and 147 Assembly constituencies will be held simultaneously in four phases.
But, many still question the logic behind the long schedule of the elections.
The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) also alleged that the four-phase election schedule for Odisha has been planned under the pressure from BJP.
While the polls will be held in one phase in states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat having more seats, the EC has decided to conduct polls in several phases in the states where the BJP is weak.Amar Patnaik, Spokesperson, BJD
Politics Trumps Logistics?
The four-phase election schedule in Odisha was decided taking the Left-Wing Extremism affected areas and movement of Central security forces into consideration, according to the Election Commission of India. But the seats going to polls in different phases covering the Maoist-affected areas in Odisha show a confusing picture as far as logistical requirements are concerned.
The Maoist-affected constituencies are mostly in the Western and Southern districts of Odisha – Bolangir, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Kandhmal and Koraput.
The Lok Sabha seats and the corresponding Assembly seats of Kalahandi, Nabarangpur and Koraput will go to polls in the first phase of election on 11 April. In the second phase too, out of the five seats, three seats of Maoist-affected areas – Bargah, Bolangir and Kandhamal – will go to polls.
The elections can be held in Andhra Pradesh with 25 Lok Sabha seats and its share of Maoist-affected areas in a single phase while Odisha will go through two-phase poll for 6 Lok Sabha seats in Maoist-affected areas.
Polling for all the seats in Naxal-affected areas could have been held in one phase and the seats in non-Naxal affected areas in another. Thus, the entire election process for the state could have been completed in two phases only.
In the third and fourth phases, polling will be held for 11 Lok Sabha seats spread across the costal, northern and western parts of the state. If the aim of the Election Commission of India was to minimise the burden on the election machinery, this isn’t quite reflected in the division of the phases. In fact, the EC’s geographical coverage could be more cumbersome.
Will it Work to BJP’s Advantage?
The spread-out election schedule could work to the BJP’s advantage.
The BJP will get more time to mobilise its cadre to the constituencies where it is relatively in a weaker position. Polling for the constituencies in the western and tribal belt of Odisha, where the BJP has a relatively strong organisational base, will be over in the first two phases. So, the BJP could mobilise its cadre to the coastal belt, where most of the seats are going to polls in the third and fourth phases.
Odisha is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gateway to ‘Purvodaya’. The BJP aims to compensate the loss of Lok Sabha seats in the Hindi-speaking states from Odisha and West Bengal.
A spread-out election schedule will help BJP organise more public meetings by the party’s main campaigner – Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This will give the BJP an edge in the personality battle over the Opposition that still struggles to build a narrative against the image of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, even after his 19 years of rule.
An extended election process will also allow the BJP to move more resources to the constituencies whenever required to based on its internal assessment.
BJP’s Coastal Conundrum in Odisha
The key to BJP’s success in Odisha depends on how the party performs in the coastal belt spread from the south coast to the border of West Bengal in the north. While the BJD has a stronghold in almost all of the districts, in the coastal belt, it is yet to find a strong footing.
In 2014, out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in coastal Odisha, the BJP finished second in two seats – Bhubaneswar and Balasore. The BJP could win two seats out of around 70 Assembly seats in the coastal belt. The BJP had finished third in Cuttack, Jajpur, Aska, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Puri and Berhampur Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
The BJP could script a success story in the state with a robust campaign strategy and cadre mobilisation in the coastal belt as around 8 Lok Sabha seats in this region will go to polls in the third and fourth phases. The BJP is also eyeing success in Bhubaneswar and Dhenkanal Lok Sabha seats.
IAS-turned politician Aparajita Sarangi, who joined the BJP in November last year, is being projected as the candidate from the coveted Bhubaneswar seat. In Dhenkanal, BJP’s Rudra Narayan Pani had finished second in the previous election. As the BJD heavyweight Tathagata Satpathy has announced to stay away from electoral politics this time, the BJP could wrestle this seat with a robust campaign plan.