Bhubaneswar: On May 23 2019, when the opposition collapsed at Centre and other states in the wake of the unprecedented Modi wave, gentleman politician Naveen Patnaik successfully held fort. Patnaik’s emphatic win is the sweetest and the most significant as he was fighting for his fifth consecutive term and has been at the helm of affairs for an unprecedented 19 long years already.
Odisha, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said would spring a surprise like ‘another Tripura’ did not materialise and Patnaik fended off a Modi wave for the second time, the first being 2014 when the BJD won 117 of 147 assembly seats and 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats.
In perhaps the most bitterly fought elections in Odisha, Patnaik had said that Modi is his principal opponent in the state. So heated was the contest that in an interview to a news channel, Naveen had remarked that Modi did not deserve a second term. By taking on the Prime Minister directly, Patnaik was perhaps able to contain the extent of the split vote in the state and consolidate BJD’s position as a party that is the defender of Odisha rights.
While Patnaik was soft-spoken, mild-mannered and delivers pithy speeches, the BJP had a galaxy of leaders led by Modi, party president Amit Shah, union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and Piyush Goel, who campaigned in the state. On the other hand, the Biju Janata Dal relied on the charisma and strategy of only one leader, Naveen Patnaik.
The BJD’s fifth win in a row is not a flash in the pan. Out of box, the chief minister deciding to field as many as seven women candidates paid off with five of them winning handsomely. Pramila Bisoyi, the SHG activist from Aska defeated BJP’s Anita Subhadarshini by over two lakh votes, Rajashree Mallick from Jagatsinghpur defeated BJP’s Bibhu Prasad Tarai by 2,71,655 votes, the highest margin in the state and Chandrani Murmu, the youngest MP in the 17th Lok Sabha, defeated BJP’s Ananta Nayak by over 66,000 votes.
Reinventing strategy and campaign, Patnaik criss-crossed the state in a specially designed bus, covering hundreds of kilometres by road, staying out of the state capital, addressing huge rallies as well as modest groups of people who gathered at cross roads to catch a glimpse of him. His pitch in the road shows was disarmingly simple, short and sharp, and as the election results proved, very effective.
In the 2019 assembly polls, the vote share of the BJD stood at 44.7 per cent up by one percent from 43.4 per cent in 2014 thus reinforcing the fact that Biju Janata Dal and Naveen both are invincible and there is no alternate in the state.
Patkura By Poll
Under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik, Biju Janata Dal won the Patkura Assembly constituency by defeating the BJP by a margin of over 17,000 votes. BJP’s heavyweight Bijoy Mohapatra, who won from Patkura four times — 1980, 1985, 1990 and 1995, had to concede defeat.
Thanks to the charismatic leadership of Naveen Patnaik, BJD candidate Rita Sahu won the by-poll to the Bijepur Assembly constituency in Odisha by a margin of 97,990 votes, which is the highest ever margin in the history of the state’s Assembly polls. Sahu’s victory margin is much higher than Patnaik’s 57,122 margin, which he registered in the elections held earlier this year. The by-election to the politically-sensitive seat in Bargarh district was necessitated after Patnaik vacated the seat after winning from two seats in the Assembly polls.
Apart from Naveen’s strong pro-poor and pro-women policies, what stands out in Patnaik’s politics is that he has never, in his speeches through the two decades, appealed to caste or religious sentiments. Civility in political discourse, a rarity in the days of quick-serving high decibel campaigns, is also a huge part of the Naveen legacy in Odisha. And, of course, the urgency and political will to fight to fight natural disasters shown by Patnaik has received recognition worldwide.