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Ruthless Election Machine Pitted Against Impregnable Fortress

KalingaTV News Network

By Soumyajit Pattnaik

It’s billed as the biggest political battle to be fought in Eastern India. The most ruthless election machinery since Independence is pitted against the most impregnable fortress. The Odisha fortress built by Naveen Patnaik has not been breached for last 18 years. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unleash his oratorial prowess at Cuttack tomorrow to mark the completion of four years of the NDA Government, will he emulate BJP President Amit Shah who has been unsparing in his criticisms of the BJD Government & CM Naveen Patnaik? Or will Modi hold fire after new winds of change have started blowing from Bengaluru where the first signs of a united Opposition alliance came to the fore?

The PM’s visit to Odisha comes close on the heels of the Karnataka fiasco where BS Yedyurrapa had to resign after being sworn in for barely 58-hours. Karnataka seems to have turned most political forecasts about 2019 topsy-turvy. While HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony was attended by many non-BJP stalwarts like Mamata Banerjee, N Chandrababu Naidu, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Tejashwi Yadav, Hemant Soren, Sitaram Yechury along with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, there was one notable absentee. The Odisha CM was conspicuous by his absence at Bengaluru.

Naveen has so far scrupulously adhered to the equidistant policy vis-à-vis the BJP and the Congress without leaning towards either side. Naveen has to tread cautiously to do a fine balancing act so that the BJD remains wedded to both anti-Congressism (which gave the raison d’etre to establish the regional party) and secularism (BJD snapped ties with BJP in 2009 after the Kandhamal riots). In this backdrop, will PM Modi launch a scathing attack on the BJD Government like Amit Shah or will he steer clear of Odisha politics during his address tomorrow?

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aircraft is set to touch down Biju Patnaik airport tomorrow, the excitement is building up. But there is more excitement from the hoi polloi to hear what the PM will speak about the BJD Government and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik than the NDA Government’s 4-year report card. That the BJP has chosen Cuttack as the first venue for the PM to address the nation on completion of four years certainly shows BJP’s new resolve to cross swords with the BJD. By choosing Cuttack as the venue, BJP wants to send an unmistakable message that Odisha now figures prominently for Modi-Shah’s battle plan for 2019.

BJP’s expectations to wrest Odisha from the BJD have soared especially after the Panchayat polls, where the party notched up victories in the Zilla Parishad elections. Its tally rose from a paltry 30 to reach a spectacular 300 ZP seats. Thus the saffron party is sensing blood and party President Amit Shah during his last two visits to Odisha gave the clarion call to uproot the BJD Government and throw it in Bay of Bengal. After Shah’s no-holds-barred broadside against the BJD Government and Naveen in particular, the focus is now on whether the PM will do an encore?

The BJD is keeping a close eye on the PM visit, but party leaders have pooh-poohed talks of BJP campaign getting a major boost as a result of the Modi visit. If the past is any indicator, the BJD has reasons to shrug off talks of a potential threat from the BJP. In 2017, the BJP hosted the party’s National Executive in Bhubaneswar which was attended by Modi, Shah, all the CMs of BJP-ruled states and other bigwigs in the party’s organisation. The party subsequently could not reap any political mileage from hosting the National Executive here. In the much-hyped Bijepur by-election, the BJD candidate won by more than 40,000 votes. In subsequent elections to two important Urban Local Bodies, the BJP was again bested by the BJD.

If the BJP steamroller has been unstoppable in many states of India, the BJD juggernaut has been no different in Odisha. In 2014, Naveen Patnaik could stave off the Narendra Modi challenge. Odisha remained impervious to the Modi storm which lashed the entire country and reduced the Congress to only 44 seats in Lok Sabha.

Tomorrow, it will be Modi’s sixth visit to Odisha after he became PM. Naveen seems to be following the principle of non-alignment as a new Cold War has intensified after Karnataka elections. Will Modi shut the doors once and all for an erstwhile ally or will he prod Naveen to start mulling about joining one of the blocs after his address? Odisha politics is certain to witness many interesting twists and turns in the days to come.

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