India

Rivals call BJP's Odisha growth 'one-time benefit of Congress votes'

Rivals call BJP's Odisha growth 'one-time benefit of Congress votes'
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With the BJP having won eight out of 21 Lok Sabha seats and 23 of 146 Assembly seats in Odisha, and becoming the main Opposition to the governing Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Congress, now relegated to a distant third spot in the state, claims that the saffron party’s rise is “unsustainable over the long term”.

While some BJD leaders agree with this observation, BJP national vice-president Baijayant Panda, who was a former Lok Sabha MP from BJD, argued that the BJP is here to stay, and that the party’s growth is “not a flash in the pan”.

The BJP’s vote-share in Lok Sabha elections increased from 21.5 per cent in 2014 to 38.4 per cent this time, while its share in Assembly polls went up from 18 per cent to 32.5 per cent. The BJD’s share in both Lok Sabha and Assembly was largely intact — between 42 and 44 per cent.

That the Congress share has seen a near-meltdown is not in contention — from nearly 26 per cent in both elections in 2014 to 16 and 13.8 per cent, respectively, in the state and Parliamentary polls this time — but the parties disagree on where those votes went.

Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo said the BJP benefited from the collapse in Congress vote. “Our party’s vote-share halved from 26 per cent in 2014, and the BJP picked up those votes.” Calling the nature of BJP’s rise in Odisha “unsustainable”, Kanungo said, “Most of these votes the BJP received are traditional Congress votes — they are floating and unstable. If the Congress works a little hard, we can get these votes back.”

Several BJD leaders agreed with the Congress argument. One leader said: “Since 2014, we have maintained a vote-share in excess of 40 per cent through every election – Assembly, local bodies, bypolls and now. The BJP received a one-time benefit and does not have a core vote of any significance in Odisha.”

BJP’s Panda disagreed: “The largest chunk of Congress votes has gone to BJD, not the BJP. This has empirical evidence.”

He asserted that “original BJD votes” went to the BJP. “This is natural because many BJD leaders have come to BJP, and each of them (including Panda himself) has a base. Overall, the BJD benefitted from the Congress vote that collapsed.”

Panda called it a “steady build-up” for BJP in the state. “In 2009, BJP had no Lok Sabha seats from Odisha and got one in 2014. In the panchayat elections, we saw a 10-fold rise in BJP’s zilla parishad seats. This indicates the BJP is growing steadily,” he said.