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BJD-BJP battle for supremacy in western Odisha

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Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is a candidate for Kantabanji Assembly seat under Balangir Lok Sabha constituency. His second in command in the Biju Janata Dal Pranab Prakash Das is a candidate for Sambalpur Lok Sabha constituency.

Das is being challenged by Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan in Sambalpur while Union home minister Amit Saha has fired his first salvo against the BJD from Sonepur, which comes under Balangir Lok Sabha constituency but also adjacent to Sambalpur and Bargarh Lok Sabha constituencies.

Why both the Bharatiya Janata Party and BJD have sharp focus on western Odisha this time? The reason is not far to seek.

The BJP has a traditional vote base in western Odisha. When a coalition of the BJD and BJP rode to power in Odisha defeating the Congress, the western parts of the state sent most of the BJP’s MLAs to the Assembly. After 2009, when Patnaik snapped all ties with the BJP, the latter won fewer seats but was the main challenger of the BJD in western Odisha.

In 2019 elections, Patnaik contested in Bijepur Assembly segment under Bargarh Lok Sabha seat to broaden the BJD’s organisation in the region. It helped the BJD to win more Assembly seats but the BJP, backed by Pulwama narrative, managed to win all the five Lok Sabha seats of western Odisha – Kalahandi, Balangir, Bargarh, Sambalpur and Sundargarh. Besides, it also won three more Lok Sabha seats including Bhubaneswar, Balasore and Mayurbhanj.

In the 2024 elections, the BJP desperately wants a much better haul than eight Lok Sabha seats considering its ambitious target of 400+ seats throughout India. By kicking off the party’s campaign in Odisha from Sonepur, Shah has signaled the party cadres to win all western Odisha Lok Sabha seats at any cost. 

On the other hand, the BJD also wants to scuttle the BJP’s action plan for western Odisha and broaden its base in the region further. In fact, the regional party had tried its western Odisha experiment in 2019 elections by fielding Patnaik from Bijepur Assembly seat in Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency. It partially worked as it got a bigger haul of Assembly seats. However, the BJP’s Pulwama narrative deprived it of all the Lok Sabha seats.

This time around, a strong national narrative is not visible and the BJD is stressing on “Double Sankha” narrative meaning one vote for Assembly and one for Lok Sabha. Though it did not win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2019, the BJD’s experiment helped the party make strong inroads into western Odisha. This time around, as both the party zero in on the region – the BJP trying to protect its traditional base and the BJD spreading its organization further – the electoral battle promises to be very intense.

Author : Priya Ranjan Sahu

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