Naveen Patnaik’s BJD To Sweep Odisha, Few Gains for BJP: Survey
Odisha is one of the few states that withstood the Narendra Modi wave in 2014, mainly due to the towering popularity of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik whose Biju Janata Dal (BJD) won 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
But this time, the BJP senses an opportunity to make major gains in the eastern state. This is evident in the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made several visits to the state in the past few months. There is also speculation that PM Modi would contest from a Lok Sabha constituency in the state, possibly Puri.
Chief Minister Patnaik, however, appears to be unfazed at the BJP’s efforts. He recently announced that the Biju Janata Dal would allot 33 percent of the tickets in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to women. This policy was reflected in the BJD’s first list of candidates released by Patnaik on Monday, 18 March. Out of nine candidates, three are women.
Since Patnaik has changed a large number of candidates, including sitting MPs and MLAs, many say that it indicates confidence in his party’s prospects.
This confidence isn’t misplaced if the pre-poll survey by Poll Eyes is anything to go by.
According to the survey, Patnaik’s BJD could win 18 out of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha constituencies.
The survey says that the BJD could secure around 50 percent votes in the state – a lead of 25 percent over the BJP.
The BJD’s lead is particularly strong in constituencies like Jagatsinghpur, Berhampur, Cuttack and Kandhamal.
Can Anything Go Wrong for BJD?
Even though the survey shows that the BJD is set to sweep Odisha, there are three things that could prevent this from happening.
- Defections and rebellion within its ranks
- Consolidation of Opposition votes closer to the elections
- Split-voting in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections
Defections and Rebellion
The Poll Eyes survey was conducted in February and the situation can change by the time the four phases of polling in Odisha are held. For instance in Berhampur, which is considered a strong seat for BJD, supporters of senior MLA Ramesh Chyau Patnaik have threatened to revolt from the party. Also, Naveen Patnaik has fielded former Congress leader Chandra Shekhar Sahu from the seat for the Lok Sabha elections. This might cause resentment among local leaders and cadre.
The BJD could also lose some ground due to its leaders who have defected to the BJP – such as Kendrapara MP Baijyant “Jay” Panda and Nabarangpur MP Balabhadra Majhi. More defections in the run-up to the elections can’t be ruled out.
Also Read : Sitting BJD MP from Odisha joins BJP
Consolidation of Opposition votes
According to the Poll Eyes survey, the BJD is behind in only three seats: Keonjhar, Sambalpur and Koraput. The BJP is predicted to have a comfortable lead in Keonjhar and a smaller lead in Sambalpur while the Congress has surprisingly inched ahead in Koraput.
Koraput is one of the seats the BJP is optimistic about, especially with former CM and eight-time Congress MP from the seat, Giridhar Gamang, now in its ranks. The main challenge for Gamang would be to ensure the shift of Congress votes to the BJP.
This is a problem for the BJP across the state. If it manages to consolidate the Opposition votes in a particular seat, seven seats could become difficult for the BJD:
Let’s take a look at the seats where the BJD could be in danger.
The other aspect which could potentially prevent an outright BJD sweep in Odisha’s 21 seats is split-voting between the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Assembly elections in Odisha have been held along with the Lok Sabha elections since 2004.
In 2014, BJP secured 3.9 percent more votes in the Lok Sabha elections compared to the Assembly elections even though they were held together. This was particularly high in eight Lok Sabha seats.
It is not surprising that Naveen Patnaik has decided to contest from a second constituency – Bijepur – which falls in the Bargarh Lok Sabha seat. This is clearly Patnaik’s attempt to preserve the BJD’s vote share in northern Odisha, where the BJP has been making inroads. Bargarh features prominently in the BJP’s plan as well, as was clear in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit there earlier this year.
Sundargarh, too, is another seat to watch out for. It is the only seat BJP won in 2014 with its tribal face Jual Oram getting elected. BJD has fielded Sunita Biswal, daughter of former Congress chief minister Hemananda Biswal, from the seat. Hemananda Biswal, who hails from Jharsuguda, was the first tribal chief minister of Odisha.
Sundargarh is the only seat in Odisha that the BJD has never won, despite ruling the state since 2000. The main competition in the seat has been between Jual Oram and Hemananda Biswal.
The Poll Eyes survey indicates that Oram might find it difficult to win the seat this time. Therefore by fielding Biswal, Patnaik has made a smart move to defeat the veteran BJP leader.
Patnaik seems all set to return to power in the Assembly elections as well as win a sizeable number of seats in the Lok Sabha. However, for that he would need to contain the harm that defections and a possible consolidation of anti-BJD votes could cause.
Also Read : BJD to go it alone in elections: Naveen Patnaik
(Survey methodology: The survey was conducted in February in all Assembly segments across 10 states. 50 respondents were interviewed at different locations in each Assembly segment, using random stratified sampling.)