By Ashima Makhija
In his 110-day nationwide tour to strengthen the party machinery of the BJP, its president Amit Shah has launched and lauded several government programmes. He pledged to the widespread expansion of the saffron party in all states. However, none of his plans and promises seem quite as overreaching as Mission 120—the promise to bag 120 seats out of a total of 147 in the 2019 Odisha Legislative Assembly Elections.
Shah visited Bhubaneswar as part of his three-day tour to Orissa to strengthen the party organisation. He held a series of meetings with leaders and workers to chalk out the party’s strategy in the State. A host of senior BJP leaders including Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Dharmendra Pradhan have also arrived to join Shah.
Examining the Electoral Battlefield
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been ruling the state for the last 17 years and is hoping for a fifth consecutive term. Javadekar, however, believes that “the people of Odisha are now disillusioned with BJD rule and are keen to bring about a change in order to be a part of the development process”.
BJP currently has only ten saffron legislators in Odisha, yet an air of optimism has blanketed the party. The cause of this upbeat attitude is the impressive performance in the last rural polls in the state earlier this year. It won 306 of the 853 Zilla Parishad seats, rising significantly from the meagre 36 seats that it had bagged in 2012, sources said.
Shah—popularly referred to as the ‘alter ego of Modi’ and the ‘architect of BJP electoral strategy’—is confident that the saffron wave will facilitate the BJP in its march towards victory. On 7th September, the BJP national president declared that not only will the BJP secure a two-third majority in the state legislature but it will do so without any regional ally. The BJP is planning to fight the Odisha polls alone. This is a significant decision for a party that has had a minimal political footprint in the state so far but the BJP may be successful in delivering another surprising victory.
Wooing the Voters
The BJP has employed several ways to reach out to the electorate in the coastal state ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. These include increasing the allocation of central funds to Odisha, emphasising that there is a need for change after two decades of the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD rule, informing the people about the various welfare schemes of the NDA dispensation, and awakening nationalist sentiments.
Shah slammed the Patnaik government, saying that although the NDA government has increased the central funds for Odisha three-fold under Narendra Modi’s tenure, its benefits have not percolated down to the masses.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the people of the state are “fed up with backwardness, misrule and corruption” during the BJD-rule and are eagerly waiting to have a taste of good governance of the BJP “whose popularity is growing under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
What does the future hold?
The primary objective of Amit Shah’s tour is to strengthen the party at grass-roots level and build a more committed and motivated cadre. He held a meeting with state office bearers, district presidents and district prabharis (in-charge). The BJP president also addressed booth level workers at a mega conclave at the Janta Maidan on 8th September.
The surge in the support and popularity of the BJP at the village and district levels and the ongoing saffron wave make it seem plausible for the party to secure a majority in Odisha. Although it faces a formidable competitor in BJD, BJP has already started attacking the chinks in its armour. The real challenge for BJP will not be to secure a simple majority but to achieve its Mission 120, in a state, which so far, has been far removed from the Modi wave.
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