Naveen Patnaik, the longest serving Chief Minister of Odisha, is hoping to ride on the crest of “women power” to win a fifth successive term in office.
“Mission Shakti”, the flagship women empowerment programme of the state government with over 70 lakh women beneficiaries is what Patnaik is heavily banking on.
The 2019 General Elections is by all accounts turning out to be the toughest of the four previous ones that he had won.
In 2000 and 2004, the BJD was a part of the NDA, taking on the Congress in Odisha. Naveen Patnaik had an excellent relationship with Vajpayee and Advani and he won handsomely. It was in 2009 that he parted ways with the BJP and fought on his own and won. He repeated the feat in 2014 as the BJP was so inconsequential in the state at that point in time that it failed to encash on the “Modi wave” seen in several other states.
But 2019 turns out to be a different ball game altogether.
A newfound “Modi craze”, (the BJP was never a force to reckon with in Odisha, not even in 2014 when it could win just one Lok Sabha and 10 Assembly seats), and the anti-incumbency factor have made the 2019 battle difficult for the BJD.
The BJD supremo was well aware of it and planned his strategy almost a year in advance – he worked on the women empowerment plank with over 70 lakh women enrolled under the Mission Shakti programme.
Ahead of the election notification, Naveen Patnaik held a series of Mission Shakti meetings in different parts of the state. Later, he went on to announce and pick seven women candidates (33 per cent) of the 21 LS seats in the state.
Patnaik floated the Biju Yuva Vahini for the youth and for farmers he introduced the KALIA scheme of DBT of Rs 10,000 to the farmer, landless and agri labour. Next, he replaced 46 sitting MLAs and as many as 16 MPs to try and tide over the anti-incumbency.
Like a grandmaster, he plotted each move of his endgame.
The challenging task of travelling to each constituency – unlike all previous elections was also worked out with a high tech luxury bus for road shows and travel.
In all the four previous elections he used to hop around in a chopper, address meetings at district headquarters and return.
Technology was put to great use by the BJD with the high tech buses, 20 hologram vehicles with Naveen’s speeches and music and dance like a live show, selfie-with Naveen in my house, with handsets carried to households enabling the family to click with the photo of Naveen and a print out provided by the BJD volunteer were all part of the well planned campaign by the party IT Cell.
The CM cleverly made KALIA scheme an electoral plank and repeatedly alleged that fund disbursal to farmers was suspended due to the BJP’s complaint to the EC. This was done to overcome the resentment amongst farmers who were left out in the first phase of disbursal and irregularities in the list of beneficiaries.
Sensing that there could be an undercurrent in the favour of Modi which leads to the split vote – Modi for parliament; Naveen for assembly kind of voting, Patnaik, in the last phase, started campaigning on vote for the conch twice- one for LS and one for assembly. He also went about saying that Modi is losing in other parts of the country and no party will get a majority. Regional parties hold the key to government formation and therefore vote for the BJD.
The BJP concentrated on Odisha as its reading was that the party will do particularly well in states which had not voted for Modi in 2014 – the Coromandal belt, as they put it in one of their national executive meetings. The craze for PM Narendra Modi would be more in such states and Odisha was one of them.
Prime Minister Modi made as many as nine trips to Odisha – staged meetings and road shows while Amit Shah crisscrossed the state, Dharmendra Pradhan clocked over meetings in over 100 assembly constituencies. Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal et al were out to repeat a Tripura in Odisha.
But many, who insist on a wave in favour of Modi across the state, concede that Naveen still holds a considerable grip in assembly segments. So Odisha may vote for the BJP in the LS and Naveen in assembly, they say.
Naveen, the grandmaster, has the queen on the chessboard well placed, in the form of women voters and expects a fifth term.