The BJP’s winds have always failed to make landfall on the East Coast of India. You can observe this phenomenon very clearly in this NASA image of the Modi tsunami circa 2014:
India’s East Coast: West Bengal (42 MPs), Odisha (21 MPs), Andhra Pradesh (25 MPs), Telangana (17 MPs) and Tamil Nadu (40 MPs, including Puducherry). That accounts for 145 Lok Sabha seats and you can count the number of BJP MPs on your fingers (possibly of one hand).
This lack of influence on India’s East Coast is a concern for the BJP both from a long term and a short term view. In the short term for 2019, the BJP’s massive mandates (over 90% strike rate) in UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Himachal and Uttarakhand are all subject to attrition. This makes it crucial for the BJP to break new ground.
In the long term, we see that the party that has the largest catchment area will be the one that generally stays in power. The most glaring example of this is 2004, which was a waveless election in which the Congress won 145 seats, merely 6 seats ahead of the BJP’s 139. How did the Congress manage this 6 seat margin? Because the Congress party’s larger national spread gave it seats everywhere from J&K to Tamil Nadu and from Manipur to Gujarat. Who can forget how much the BJP as a party and India as nation paid for this 6 seat margin?
In the last 1 week, even as political animals have been glued to the gripping saga of Uttar Pradesh and 4 other states, a whole new horizon has unfolded for the BJP in Odisha. A sunrise in a large state with 21 seats is sweet music to the BJP’s ears. It is another smack on the faces of jealous critics still smarting from the BJP wave in the North East.
The trends and results of the first four phases of the Odisha Panchayat polls show that it is well and truly “Burey Din” for intellectuals who are struggling to reassure themselves that BJP is a Hindi speaking, Brahmin-Bania party of the cow belt.
— OTV (@otvnews) February 19, 2017
— OTV (@otvnews) February 17, 2017
— OTV (@otvnews) February 15, 2017
— OTV (@otvnews) February 13, 2017
That is a tremendous body blow for the ruling BJD which had been sitting pretty on as much as 77% of these seats! Back in 2012, the Congress was a distant second with just 13% of the seats and the BJP had only earned itself a pittance of 2% of the seats.
In these elections, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD had everything going for them : they had won as many as 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha and a brutal 117 of the 147 seats in the Assembly. And we all know that the ruling party generally enjoys a massive advantage in local polls, especially when it is totally dominant with 17 years of continuous rule under its belt. What happened in Odisha therefore, is a watershed moment in the politics of the state.
The BJP is also relishing the fact that it has now replaced the Congress as the main opposition in Odisha. In other words, Odisha is now “Congress mukt”.
The frustration showed well and truly on the face of the BJD when the first phase results came out.
— OTV (@otvnews) February 14, 2017
From the BJP’s point of view, a statement like this is not to be criticized, but to be savored and enjoyed. That was their reaction to the 1st phase results. By the time the results from the 2ndd phase came in, the frustration in the BJD camp had been replaced by outright anger.
— OTV (@otvnews) February 16, 2017
Indeed, there are no two ways about the fact that Naveen babu has come down with a fever after these results.
There is an additional layer of irony to the predicament of the incumbent BJD. Please note that these results here are “unofficial results”. That means the votes get counted publicly and everyone knows the results, but the Election Commission doesn’t actually announce “official results” until the conclusion of ALL rounds of panchayat polls. According to this Odisha TV report, the BJD was quite happy with this arrangement of TV channels announcing “unofficial results” of previous phases before the entire election was over. They were hoping to ride a rising wave of public sentiment with each phase. This has now totally backfired, because news of the BJP wave on television is sending BJD fortunes into a tailspin. The BJD can only gnash its teeth.
It is a tremendous credit to ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram, to BJP’s workers and RSS karyakartas of Odisha that they have managed to create a whole new frontier for the BJP. They did it with all the odds stacked against them. With this, the tottering Congress has been finished in yet another state.
The congratulations came right from the top.
— OTV (@otvnews) February 15, 2017
The usual critics are bound to make fun of the Prime Minister for talking about a “mere Panchayat election”. They will see it as a sign of BJP’s desperation for electoral victory. Because they see only what they want to see. What they don’t see is that the Prime Minister congratulating karyakartas on the outcome of a Panchayat poll is arguably more important than even a state assembly election.
These polls were contested by the BJP’s grassroot workers. It is their hard work that built the BJP brick by brick in every village, block, district and mandal. By letting the grassroot workers know that they are close to his heart, that their contributions are recognized and appreciated, the Prime Minister is setting the BJP up for success.
For the BJP, the state of Odisha has opened up at the right time. The buzz around the BJP has been generated a little over two years before the Assembly polls, just the right amount of time required for the party to work it up to a fever pitch. In the meanwhile, we can expect some realpolitik, as the last remnants in the Congress ranks desert their party and become force multipliers for BJP. An additional advantage is that the Assembly polls in Odisha are set to coincide with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and Modi’s image will give the party an extra bit of wind in its sails.
The challenge for the BJP, of course, is to find a face that can match Naveen babu. As of now, Dharmendra Pradhan is the likely front-runner by all accounts.
Just one final thought : as a wild card, don’t rule out Jual Oram for the post of President of India.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.