Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo, Naveen Patnaik, stamped his invincibility by retaining power for a fifth successive term. He has joined the elite duo of late Jyoti Basu and Pawan Chamling.
The Naveen fortress withstood the Modi wave and Amit Shah’s election management for the second time running – 2014 and 2019.
The “political novice” of 1998 had outgrown seasoned political stalwarts and in terms of electoral success, even his illustrious father Biju Patnaik. Incidentally, Naveen Patnaik, who used to appeal for votes to fulfil Biju babu’s dreams in the first three elections, had created a “Naveen Aura” among voters and this time around he rarely referred to “Biju babu’s dreams”.
The Naveen phenomenon proved far greater than the Modi wave or Shah’s election management.
Right from the beginning of the month-long campaign, BJD’s victory in the assembly polls was amply clear. The number of seats speculated varied from 85 to 100, but a majority was never in doubt.
The entire debate was on the LS seats where the BJP had created a perception of being on a winning spree due to the Modi wave.
“Modi as PM and Naveen as CM” was the buzz everywhere. Naveen Patnaik and his close team of hardworking people (not party men as such) had insisted that never in the history of elections in India a “split vote” of more than five per cent had taken place, and if it happens, “our margin of victory on LS seats may come down but we will not lose many seats”.
The question that is bound to be debated in the days to come is how did Naveen withstand the Modi onslaught when several other states wilted?
For one, the BJD supremo had identified specific areas and targeted them months prior to elections – anti-incumbency (anger against sitting MPs and MLAs), farmers who were in distress, women voters and the youth who were enamoured by Modi.
He planned meticulously for each one of these sections just like a grandmaster plotting his endgame.
Mission Shakti programmes (70 lakh women in SHGs) were held across the state with near perfect timing and execution by the secretary of the department Sujata Kartikeyan. The CM addressed each of these women conclaves – announced special packages – mobile phones, seed money etc.
He launched the KALIA scheme for farmers and provided the first instalment DBT of Rs 5000 each.
Patnaik also held youth conclaves organised by the Biju Yuva Vahini.
Having completed all this before notification of elections, he went on to the next task of denying tickets to as many as 16 sitting MPs and 46 sitting MLAs to overcome the anti-incumbency factor.
The BJD chief went on to announce 33 per cent quota in LS tickets for women and fielded seven women candidates. The women voters were all for Naveen and their confidence in him was unmatched.
Even during the campaign, the BJD president disarmed the aggressive Opposition BJP by his brief speeches playing on the regional card and turning the battle to one between “election tourists” who talk big while seeking votes and then disappear, who never bothered to come when the people were in distress due to natural calamities.
He made it a point to ask the audience at every meeting – “are you happy” pausing for a response, before adding “I too am happy”. This was perhaps aimed as a counter to the rabid, often abusive aggressive campaign of the BJP.
PM Modi had spoken of a “humiliating farewell” to Naveen Patnaik after 23 May while Amit Shah had dubbed him as a “burnt transformer” which will be replaced. A repeat of Tripura will take place, said PM Modi while Shah and Pradhan foresaw a BJP “double engine” government.
They had also hurled charges of corruption – coal scam, chit fund scam, mining scam, and promised to book the culprits in 90 days of assuming power.
PM Modi held 8 meetings, Amit Shah 10, Dharmendra Pradhan touched 117 constituencies and several others like Yogi Adityanath, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari flew in and out of Odisha.
The Congress had given up the race and the AICC did not bother to string in a campaign. Rahul Gandhi held only three campaign meetings.
Naveen Patnaik, on his part, knew his limitations as a public speaker and was equally aware of the fact that people wanted to “see him physically” rather than hear him speak. He was the lone star campaigner for his party and he undertook a strenuous campaign in a hi-tech bus trying to touch each and every constituency.
To cap it all, the BJD wizkids – the IT cell and the team had hit the bullseye when they asserted that the party would win 105 assembly and 14 LS seats. They came close, much closer than most of the professional survey agencies and psephologists.