ORissa emerged as an exception to the general trend against the BJP-led NDA in the recent elections. On face value, the so-called anti-incumbency factor did not work here against the Navin Patnaik led BJD-BJP combine, unlike the case of the Naidu regime in neighbouring Andhra. The decision to prepone the assembly elections gave dividends to Navin Patnaik. Election results paved the way for the installation of the BJD-BJP Government for the second time in Orissa.
Of course, this does not mean the Navin Government in Orissa was a model functional government that has delivered goods to the broad majority of people. Rather, the long-standing problems of Orissa like growing starvation deaths of the rural poor including tribals, galloping unemployment and migration, de-industrialisation, mismanagement in controlling the damage due to natural calamities like droughts, floods and cyclones, farmers’ crisis and the loot of public funds were never addressed earnestly by the Navin regime during its first term.
Still, if Navin could manage people’s anger, it was largely due to the lack of an effective and reliable opposition. The main opposition party, Congress, had been a divided house with its own factional fights. Of late Sonia Gandhi attempted to revitalise the Congress by appointing JB Patnaik as PCC president, and under his leadership Congress did gear up to a certain extent. He also tried to put up a broad-based alliance against the BJD-BJP combine. A section of the breakaway leaders of BJD like Ramakrishna Patnaik, Dilip Ray, were accommodated in Congress whereas other breakaway groups like Orissa Ganatantrik Party led by Bijoy Mahapatra were included in the alliance. In addition, CPI, CPI(M) and JMM were also incorporated in the alliance.
Still, this alliance could not emerge as a winning combination due to the following factors: Firstly, in the battle between Navin vs JB, Navin was way ahead of JB in terms of image and credibility, because of the latter's track record of having had to step down from the post of CM on corruption charges. Secondly, the continuous attack on Navin by former associates, leaders who were erstwhile “yesmen” of Biju Patnaik, followed by a chain of divisions in BJD was not appreciated by the people. Rather they conceived these deserters as disruptionists to Navin Patnaik’s smooth functioning. Finally, the virtual surrender by these splinter leaders to the Congress camp also created a negative impact, particularly among the anti-Congress populace.
Thirdly, the alliance partners of Congress had limited influence and were not in a position to contribute marginally at the state level. Parties like JMM, OGP, CPI and CPI(M) could ensure some seats but they could hardly contribute to Congress win in social terms.
Fourthly, the Congress alliance could not launch an aggressive campaign with any positive agenda rooted in Orissa, either on the question of communal fascism or on the economic plank. Rather BJP and Sangh Parivar utilised its influence among the tribals of Western Orissa to maintain their seats.
Fifthly, at the constituency level Navin had managed the anti-incumbency factor by replacing candidates at several places. He also nominated candidates like Mohan Jana, who had an SUCI background and was an NGO figure.
Still people did punish some important leaders who were powerful ministers in the BJD-BJP Government, like Panchanan Kanungo (Finance Minister), Mangal Kishan, Ved Prakash Agrawal and Arvind Dhali.
--D P Buxi