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HomeOpinionsThe Electoral Machine: Explaining Naveen Patnaik's unparalleled electoral success in Odisha even in the...

The Electoral Machine: Explaining Naveen Patnaik’s unparalleled electoral success in Odisha even in the face of TsuNaMo

He understands his voters, he knows his limitations, his ambitions and he concentrates his energies only where his strength lies

In April 2014, I was driving my in-laws to their voting booth in BJB College Arts block, Bhubaneswar. Out of curiosity, I asked my mother-in-law whom she would be voting for. As Odisha conducts simultaneous elections, she said Conch for the state and Lotus for Delhi. As she went into the booth and came out, I asked her did she vote the way she told me? She replied in negative. She had pressed Conch in both EVMs. The reason, as she explained to me was, she was confused which EVM is for Lok Sabha and which one is for Vidhan Sabha. She was worried about “What if my vote would not have gone for Naveen Patnaik”. She wasn’t anti-BJP or anything. In fact, she supports Prime Minister Modi. But she by no means could have voted against Naveen Patnaik. She saw it as her duty to vote for Naveen Patnaik even if it means she misses out on voting for Modi.

As they say, it’s difficult to fight someone in politics, who has become an emotion. And Naveen Patnaik enjoys that status among Odisha electors. Yes, he has ruled for 2 decades now and Odisha is still not doing great on many parameters. But ask the voters, they will attribute this to the ill-performing BJD ministers. Anything against Naveen Patnaik is taken personally. This is almost like the Modi cult at a national level, which is why Rahul Gandhi paid a price by calling Modi “Chor“. 

On 29th May, for the 5th time, Naveen Patnaik took the oath of Chief Minister at the IDCO exhibition grounds at Bhubaneswar. By the time his 5th term ends in 2024, he would be surpassing the record of Pawan Kumar Chamling, the ex-CM of Sikkim, who has served the state for 24 years and 165 days, to become the longest-serving CM ever. He will also leave behind the other stalwart, late Jyoti Basu who served as CM of West Bengal for 23 years and 137 days. While Jyoti Basu’s regime was a vote for left, the party kept on winning Bengal even after Basu, in Odisha people have not voted BJD to power. They have voted Naveen Patnaik, with a thumping majority.

Right after 2014 general polls, BJP had chosen their next battlegrounds. Odisha and West Bengal. BJP for the first time held their national executive meeting in Odisha in 2014. Since then PM Modi, Shah and other cabinet ministers have paid countless visits to Odisha to attend party programme or for inaugural functions. BJP carried out a massive booth level programme, “Mo Booth Sabuthu Majboot” to mobilize booth level workers. The result showed in 2017 panchayat elections where the party won 306 out of 849 panchayats. This was 8.5 times their previous record. The party mood was jubilant and celebrations erupted at party HQ near Ram Mandir. Someone sitting 8 KMs away near Aerodrome area was taking note.

When the results were declared for 2019, Modi Tsunami swept the country. Regional and national parties, as well as coalitions, fell like a house of cards. But one man celebrated for his notable work in dealing with cyclones and calamities, not only withstood the Tsunami but completely destroyed it. At the face of Modi Tsunami and 20 years of anti-incumbency, Naveen won 12 out of 21 parliamentary constituencies and 112 out of 147 assembly constituencies, a loss of a meagre 5 seats from his 2014 tally. So what explains this unparalleled success of Naveen babu in Indian politics?

People say Naveen wins because of There-is-no-Alternative (TINA). Well TINA can’t describe this unprecedented electoral success. And even if it were to be TINA, this talks volumes about the quality of opposition than anything else. Indian elections are complex. Get 5 Modi fans and ask them why they have voted for Modi, highly likely that they will give you 5 different reasons. Attributing electoral wins to a single reason is lazy and oversimplification of things. 

In 2015, a huge chit fund scam was unearthed in Odisha. Many BJD leaders including some MLAs and MPs spent a long time in jail. Some of them were suspended from BJD to be re-inducted later. Some of them or their sons have been given BJD ticket in 2019 and won the election as well. However, Naveen remains unscathed. None of this has made any dent to his Mr. Clean image. People see this as a good man surrounded by thugs; however, the good man has ensured the thugs are punished.

What also helps Naveen is his non confrontational attitude. Post 2014, when BJP made Odisha their battle ground, state BJP leaders went berserk in their attack on Naveen. But he remained calm and almost never lost his cool. His responses were measured, dignified and concise. A departure in today’s confrontational politics which some of his rabble rousing contemporaries practice.

One of the most important aspect of Naveen’s unparalleled success is his resolved focus. He has no ambiguity in terms of his political ambition. His sole aim is to rule Odisha and that’s where he puts his energy in. The result is for everyone to see. Compare this with other regional stalwarts, their national ambition and their dwindling political fortunes. Everyone wants a bigger pie in Delhi. Everyone is an expansionist. And that’s where they lose focus.

People on Social Media say that they don’t even know what Naveen does and yet he wins elections after elections. But that’s exactly where the secret lies. He isn’t the one who blows his trumpet. He understands his voters, he knows his limitations, his ambitions and he concentrates his energies only where his strength lies. A cursory look at his pre electoral welfare schemes, his campaigns and strategies were a give away that his appeal for MP elections were always half hearted. His focus was steadily on where his heart lies and it was Odisha Vidhan Sabha.

There is no doubt that BJP has made tremendous gains in Odisha in 2019. An 8 fold increase in parliamentary seats and more than double in assembly elections. Vote share too has almost doubled in both the elections. But numbers are for political strategists and psephologists. After a 19 years incumbency, winning a mere 23 seats out of 147, in a state which BJP had made its battleground having declared mission 120, is an abject failure. There are reasons like lack of sangathan, internal sabotage, no popular face among state leaders. But if this has to be summarised, it won’t b wrong to say that the reason was they were up against Naveen Patnaik. State BJP simply doesn’t have the ammunition to deal with the man.

As Naveen gears up for the 5th term, there are many challenges that lies in front of him. A cyclone ravaged state needs to be revived and put back on the growth track. Odisha fares among the bottom is almost all HRD indicators. Healthcare, farming, education and employment needs immediate attention. Naveen Patnaik has got a massive mandate and he must deliver. Here is wishing Naveen 5.0 all the best for the next 5.

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