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Many buts before BJP's Lotus finally blooms in Odisha!
While on his way to the BJP National Executive Committee Meeting Venue at Bhubaneswar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a repeat of his Varanasi act.

He himself broke the security cordon and mingled with the huge crowds that had lined on both sides of the road. The loud cheers of 'Modi! Modi!' are evidence enough of how successful the National Executive Meeting in Odisha has been for the BJP.

While the Odisha BJP cadres were buoyant over the unexpected performance of the party in the Panchayat elections, the national leaders were enthused to the hilt for having successfully beaten a regional party in Uttar Pradesh. And that has articulated the message sent out by the party to the electorate of Odisha. A confident Amit Shah, the party president, has declared that the BJP will swing the hustings in Odisha in 2019.

The timing for this mega event in Odisha was perfect. Many National Executive meetings put together could not have been as fruitful as this one. The party has sounded the election bugle, the cadres and the sympathisers are a spirited lot. More so it was the Odia New Year – Maha Vishuva Sankranti. And the strategy also was impeccable. The Prime Minister tweeted Happy New Year wishes to Odias in Odia language. The delegates were treated with 'panna', the ceremonial soothing drink made from raw mangoes usually taken at the beginning of Baisakh. The party went all out to touch the cultural and emotional chords of the Odia people. There was a varied display of Odisha's culture at the meeting venue which included intricate display of sand art and sand sculptures; the choicest Odia delicacies offered in the menu; felicitation of the martyrs of first freedom struggle from Odisha – all these being the ingredients that made a near perfect packaging for the meeting.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited the Lingaraj temple – dedicated to the presiding deity of the old city. He was the second Prime Minister after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to have visited the temple. During his carcade to the Raj Bhawan and the Janata Maidan venue, he made intermittent pit stops, meeting people and wining their hearts. His personal appeal and charisma, and the connect he established with the people is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi.

Over and above, the cultural touch to the meeting, public posturing by Modi and the political positioning by the BJP President Amit Shah completed the circuit. Unlike other occasions, the party president launched a frontal attack on the Naveen Patnaik's misrule in the state, though not scathing enough as the party cadres would have loved. On earlier occasions the party president Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, had steered clear of launching a frontal attack on Naveen Patnaik and his party, much to the dismay of the party workers and sympathisers.

This time, the party president was vocal in his criticism of the utter failure of Naveen's government and the allegation that the state is going down the development ladder. The level of enthusiasm amongst the party workers was exceptionally high and throttled the party cadres into a poll campaign mode.

However, it will take a lot more than just environment building and raising the spirit of the cadres to dethrone the regional satrap that Naveen Patnaik is. The question that is making rounds in the state capital is, whether this level of enthusiasm will last till 2019, the year Assembly elections are due to be held in Odisha? There is still a long time to go. And this enthusiasm has to percolate down to the ground.

Where are the vehicles? The BJP cadres are enthused. But what about the RSS karyakartas (workers)? Despite all denials and the archaic, diplomatic answers, it is a fact that the backbone of the BJP support base is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its frontal organisations. All is not well with the RSS outfits in Odisha and at present they do not seem to be in a position to play the pole position in the forthcoming elections.

Lack of discipline, difference between 'uchharana' and 'acharana' of the Sangha karyakartas, poor esteem among the sympathisers and infighting within the RSS, has been the nagging problems in Odisha since quite some time. Even though the organisation has been split into two parts of Eastern and Western Odisha for effective functioning, the internal conflicts and weaknesses are still continuing. Rather, the problems have been further aggravated with the influx of the opportunists into the RSS fold as they have smelled blood with increasing prospects of the BJP.

Other than this divide within the party, the groups around different leaderships have also been jeopardising the party's prospects. While the stalwarts who had joined the party with high hopes are cribbing of not finding an appropriate place in the party, the political aspirations of other leaders has divided the party into many groups. As the elections draw near, this will be manifested in different ways.

The question of who will be the face of the party for the polls or the CM prospect after the elections is also not yet clear. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been on the forefront, stealing the show with his regular visits, public appearances and strong media presence. Despite this, the party is cautious in not naming its CM candidate. Union Tribal Minister Jual Oram, old stalwart Pratap Sarangi, Bijoy Mohapatra, Dilip Ray etc are the other contenders. If these contenders work at cross purposes than the prospects of the party for 2019 elections will be adversely affected. The challenge for the party to deliver in 2019 will be keeping its entire herd and the spirit generated intact.

While organisationally the party might not be war ready, Modi and Amit Shah have infused a lot of enthusiasm into the people of Odisha. Interestingly, one of the posturing's by Modi has struck a deep chord with many women in Odisha. During felicitation of the freedom fighters and their families, and during the road shows, many women had tried to touch Modi's feet. To desist them from doing so, Modi would bend even lower. Women in Odisha were deeply touched by this gesture from the Prime Minister.

One woman associated with the RSS organisation, however, was a bit critical about this. She said, "Modi ji's gesture is overwhelming. But will the women in Odisha who come in contact with the RSS, BJP or the RSS associated organisations believe this in the right earnest? The karyakartas do not have any respect for women. Women are looked down upon in this organisation. How will they take Modi ji's gesture, one does not know?" Some might be flabbergasted while others might see this just as a show off for the votes.

And the garlanding of Biju Patnaik's statue is seen as a master stroke by Modi. By this he has sent a message to the Odias that Biju Patnaik is not a personality confined within the narrow identity of Biju Janata Dal. He has done this earlier with other icons, and now it was Biju Patnaik, in whose name many vote for BJD.

During the Executive Committee Meeting, the focus of the leaders and the chief ministers in the press conferences and the media interviews was on the poverty and underdevelopment of the state. And they all had done their home work together as the statistics, that changes with the source were astonishingly similar.

The hoardings put up for this occasion declared that Odisha is the laboratory of development for Modi. While the political parties like the BJD and Congress tried to rake up an issue over it by saying that BJP had demeaned Odias by projecting them as guinea pigs, they did not get any success in it. But the questions, "where are the laboratories?," put by the masses may put the party in to trouble (remember India Shining Campaign) unless the BJP really pumps in new innovative schemes to benefit the masses of Odisha.

And there is also another limitation for Amit Shah. Odisha being a peace-loving state with strong presence of brotherhood among different communities/religious groups, does not offer much prospects for communal polarisation. So any attempts at polarising people may not work in the interest of BJP.

Dethroning Naveen Patnaik is not going to be an easy task for Amit Shah. In the first place, while blaming the 17-year misrule of Naveen Patnaik, BJP will also have to explain about the nine year period that it was in alliance with the BJD. The second challenge is that during the last three years, many Union leaders, BJP top brass and even Dharmendra Pradhan have gone at length in praising Naveen Patnaik, his simplicity, his soberness etc. So, how the BJP leaders can suddenly change their opinion about him? Well, a question best left to be answered by the party's leadership.

And the issue of the interstate rivers where Odisha has been fighting for its share of water certainly is going to haunt the Odisha BJP. The presence of Raman Singh, CM of Chhattisgarh has rekindled the Mahanadi water sharing issue. Then there are certain issues related to rivers Pollavaram, Banshadhara, Mahendratanaya, and Brahmani etc where the Union government has been partisan or has been seen as being partisan in safeguarding the interests of the state. The BJP leadership has hinted that once it comes to power in 2019, the Mahanadi issue will be settled amicably. Many in Odisha have an objection to such a pre-condition, as they feel that it is like putting the life and livelihood of the people of Odisha at ransom just for gaining power.

There is a general perception among the people of Odisha that the state leaderships of the national parties like the BJP and the Congress have the tendency of following the Central line. With the Union government neglecting the state persistently, irrespective of the political hue of it, will the BJP leaders, if the party comes to power in the state be able to protect the interests of the state of Odisha?

The last Panchayat election results have certainly indicated at the losing popularity of BJD and Naveen Patnaik has been quick to internalise the message and act. He has already started making amends. All these years Naveen has been infamous for not meeting or interacting with people much but in today's age, more interaction with people is required to appease them. Recently, he has been making unplanned detours to meet people, posing for selfies, taking up issues from Facebook and responding to them, also interacting with the media (which he had never done all these years other than a few template lines). Naveen Patnaik has also reorganised the Student and Youth Wing of the BJD. Once Naveen amends his organisational and governance weaknesses, it will not be easy for the BJP to catch up with him as he is a master in the art of politics. Naveen Patnaik camp is confident of the Tamil Nadu model being pursued in Odisha.

The clean image of Naveen is the greatest asset that BJD has to win the elections. Despite rampant corruption by the ministers and other party stalwarts, he has been able to maintain that clean image. The chit fund scam, mining scam etc had the elements to tarnish his image to a great extent. But the slow and tardy pace at which the investigations are progressing has raised doubts on the intentions of the investigating agencies. While some say that the result of the investigations will surface before the elections so that the voters who have a short-term memory, do not forget the misdeeds of the BJD government, others opine that the BJP may still be looking for the alliance with BJD, finding it a difficult nut to crack and hence the tardy approach.

State BJP leaders know it very well that if all is well with Naveen then he has no substitute in Odisha's politics. But the people of Odisha have a doubt: The doubt still persists whether BJP is simply trying to woo BJD to form an alliance by showing its strength or it is really threatening the BJD?

If all goes well with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and he is able to take care of his weaknesses (that he has already started doing) and clean his party of all the mud and dirt, then the BJP's Lotus may not find enough room to bloom in Odisha.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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