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Saffronite gains

Editorial |

Though not as triumphant as it has been in the Maharashtra civic elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged eventually as a factor to reckon with in Odisha, if the result of the panchayat election is any indication.

True the election has little or no relevance in the national perspective; but as an indicator of the pulse of the people, the election to the quangos — the pivot of rural governance — is a test of the moodswing that cannot but be unnerving for the ruling Biju Janata Dal.

It is more than obvious that at least two critical issues — demonetisation and the Mahanadi dispute with neighbouring Chhattisgarh — have failed to yield dividend for the ruling party. And given the proverbially short public memory, it can be safely presumed that demonetization is unlikely to be an issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

As it turns out, the BJD’s strategy to exploit the two issues as its campaign plank palpably didn’t work. The ruling party has an edge in the overall construct, but its margin of victory has been truncated considerably.

Markedly, its image has been dented in what they call the “Mahanadi belt” in western Odisha, straddling no fewer than 15 districts. In parallel, the BJD’s strategy to exploit the river dispute to corner its rival in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh was reduced to a fizzle.

From 30-odd seats in the previous 2012 election, the BJP’s psephological graph has risen to approximately 280 seats in a span of five years. The other side of the panchayat coin is the margin of the BJD — from 600-odd in 2012 to a little over 400 this time. Which explains Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s candid admission that the “Mahanadi didn’t work”.

The Congress has been relegated to the also-ran category. As the BJP dominates in the western belt, the ruling party’s stand on Mahanadi has not neutralised the saffronites in a predominantly rural state.

It has been a critical moral victory for the BJP, and the regional party that has been helming Odisha for as long as it has is scarcely in a position to savour the overall margin of triumph, Viewed through the national prism, the electorate in rural Odisha has been unmoved by demonetisation though as many as 4500 panchayats are as yet unbanked.

And yet money was said to be flowing, the average spending by a panchayat sarpanch varying between Rs 8 and Rs 10 lakh… and despite the crippling currency crunch. Furthermore, the party’s dissidents had aligned with either the BJP or the Congress, and this has been another factor that hurt the ruling party in a vast swathe of panchayats. Though it is not on the saddle overall, the result has afforded the BJP more power in Biju Janata Dal’s Odisha.