Operation Odisha 2019: BJP declares intent loud & clear as Modi, Shah & others descend
The BJP's National Executive returned to Odisha after 20 years, firmly marking the state as a key target for the party in the near future.
Party chief Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a large number of union ministers, chief ministers of BJP-led states, party office bearers and workers from across the country have descended upon state-capital Bhubaneshwar for a two-day event.
Shah sounded the bugle right with his arrival at the airport on 14 April from where he led a massive road-show with a sea of party workers taking over the city.
The city saw another road-show on 15 April, with Modi's arrival. The PM led the road-show, flamboyantly traveling on the foot-board of his SUV.
The National Executive has been organised at a time when the BJP is going all-out in its efforts to storm to power in the eastern state. That goal is still far away given the party's strength of just 10 MLAs in the 147-member Assembly.
It does have time on its side though – a full two years to prepare and give the Assembly polls in 2019 its best shot. Significantly, BJP already has a nearly 18% vote-share in the state Assembly and recently won 306 of 853 Zilla Parishad seats, up from 36 in 2012.
This stellar performance in the local polls is believed to be the main reason that has made the party predict a huge jump in its prospects in the Assembly polls, notwithstanding the incumbent BJD's 17-year victory run.
In the local polls, BJD's tally fell to 460 from 651 in 2012. The Congress bagged third place, with a mere 66 seats.
BJP 'golden era' dream begins with Odisha
Speaking at the national office bearer's meeting, Shah said whenever people tell him this was BJP's golden period, he tells them that the golden era will arrive when the party will be in power in states like Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha.
BJP tried its best in Kerala and West Bengal just last year, but failed to manage any significant breakthrough. This year, however, is an entirely different story with the BJP winning in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and also forming the government in Manipur and Goa. The improvement in tally in Odisha's local polls is a part of the same narrative.
There have been reports that in its efforts to radically tilt the scales in the state, BJP is even also hard to engineer a split in the BJD. BJP has, of course, denied these reports expressing firm conviction that it will come to power in the state on its own strength.
No defections have been heard of so far but what might be going in BJP's favour is the very factor which is being perceived as a testimony of the invincibility of BJP and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik – three back-to-back terms in power.
In 2019, however, Patnaik will be heading into the Lok Sabha as well as Assembly polls with a tide of anti-incumbency on several fronts. The chit-fund scam has left a deep blot of corruption on his government and the party, with even MPs and MLAs being implicated.
The recent round of communal violence and the ongoing curfew in Bhadrak has revived the memory of Kandhamal communal riots of 1998.
Even though the traditional Hindu-Muslim polarisation of the Hindi-belt that the BJP is often accused of engineering is not possible in Odisha, the focus of the Sangh Parivar's anger here are Christian missionaries.
RSS holds them responsible for converting Hindus in large numbers, who still comprise 94% of the population. Muslims number a little over 2% and Christians a little short of 2.5%.
However, communal polarisation apart, the development deficit in the state gives the BJP ample scope to influence the voters through schemes run by the Union government.