The dominance of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha for the last 14 years has been a talking-point this election. Formed in 1997, a few months after stalwart politician Biju Patnaik’s demise, the party has swept to facile poll victories, first in alliance with the BJP and then on its own, since 2000.
This is the first time that a regional outfit has dominated the State for such a long time without any break. In fact, it could be a record for the country as no other regional party has governed any other State for nearly one and a half decades at a stretch.
The first regional party in Odisha was the Ganatantra Parishad floated soon after the Independence. The party was a fallout of the merger of Princely States. Its roots could be traced to the Koshal Utkal Praja Parishad, which held its first meeting at Sambalpur in 1948. This outfit was rechristened the Ganatantra Parishad (GP) at a meeting at Balangir two years later. Besides the Congress, the Ganatantra Parishad was the other party with an impressive influence in the erstwhile Princely States. Former Patna (Balangir) ruler Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo was the party’s president.
In the first Assembly elections in 1952, the Congress won 67 of the 140 seats and formed Government with the help of Independents. The Ganatantra Parishad won 31 seats and the Socialist Party 10.
In the first lok Sabha polls in 1952, the Congress won 10 seats followed by the Ganatantra Parishad with five. But the GP’s performance was much better in the 1957 lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The Ganatantra Parishad won 51 Assembly seats against the Congress’ 56 while it bagged seven lS seats, the same as the Congress’.
The Congress formed Government again with the help of Jharkhand Party members and Independents. But finding the going tough, Chief Minister Dr Harekrushna Mahtab resigned in 1959.
The Congress then decided to join hands with the principal Opposition party, the GP, to unveil the first coalition Government in Odisha on May 22, 1959. GP chief RN Singh Deo became the Finance Minister. The experiment, however, did not last long and elections were held again in 1961 when the Congress, led by charismatic Biju Patnaik, claimed a clear majority winning 82 of the 140 seats.
The GP continued to occupy the second position with 37 seats and Singh Deo became the leader of Opposition. It won four lok Sabha seats in the 1962 polls. The party subsequently decided to merge with the Swatantra Party, an all-India outfit, with Singh Deo continuing as its Odisha leader.
Differences within the Congress resulted in Mahtab walking out of the party and he floated a regional party, the Jana Congress. It tasted power winning 26 seats in the 1967 Assembly polls against 31 by the Congress.
The Swatantra emerged as the largest group in the Assembly with 49 seats. It also won eight of the lS seats while the Congress won only six and the Praja Socialist Party five. The Swatantra and the Jana Congress joined hands to form a coalition mministry with Singh Deo heading the Government that lasted till 1971.
With Biju Patnaik also quitting the Congress, a new regional outfit, the Utkal Congress, headed by him came into existence. The elections held that year also resulted in another hung Assembly as the Congres with only 51 seats failed to reach the magic figure.
The Swatantra Party came second with 36 seats while the Utkal Congress won 33. This led to the formation of yet another coalition Government with Swatantra, Utkal Congress and Jharkhand Party (four members) as partners. But a dispute about the leadership between the two major parties resulted in their agreeing to have Biswanath Das, who was Odisha’s Prime Minister in the 1930s and a former Governor of Uttar Pradesh, as the Chief Minister. He did not belong to any party at that time and was later elected as an Independent in a by-election from Rourkela.
In the Parliamentary polls held simultaneously, the Swatantra won three seats while the Utkal Congress won one.
The Government, however, did not last long and the State came under President’s Rule for a year from March 3, 1973. In the mid-term Assembly polls in 1974, the Congress stormed back to power winning 69 seats in a 147-member House.
The party formed Government with the support of some other parties with Nandini Satpathy as Chief Minister. The Utkal Congress became the largest Opposition group with 35 seats while the Swatantra had 21. The Jana Congress won only one seat.
With this Government in office, the country witnessed the imposition of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi Government in 1975 which was in force till 1977. Most opposition leaders were put in jail. But it led to the unification of most Opposition parties to project a single front against the Congress.
The Swatantra, Utkal Congress and the Socialists came together and formed the Janata Party which contested the 1977 elections (both lok Sabha and Assembly in Odisha) against the Congress.
The Janata Party won a landslide victory for the Assembly with 110 of the 147 seats while bagging 15 of the 21 lS seats. The Congress won only 26 Assembly and 4 lS seats. Nilamani Routray became the Chief Minister while Biju Patnaik, who headed the party in the State, chose to be a Union Minister (Steel and Mines).
The Janata Party cracked within three years, and the Congress won a massive comeback verdict in both Assembly and lS polls in 1980, winning 118 Assembly and 20 lS seats. The lone resistance in the lS polls was offered by Biju Patnaik, who won from Kendrapada.
Right through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, no regional party figured in Odisha’s political scene with the ‘Janata’ brand undergoing repeated metamorphosis to acquire different names and becoming the Janata Dal in 1989.
The Janata Dal won a historic verdict in 1990 under Biju Patnaik claiming 123 of the 147 Assembly seats. Patnaik became the Chief Minister for full five years till the Congress clawed back to power with 80 seats in 1995.
Soon after Patnaik’s death, his youngest son Naveen Patnaik was chosen to contest the lok Sabha by-election from the former’s Aska seat. Naveen Patnaik also became a Union Minister. But a large chunk of the Janata Dal then decided to break away and formed the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in December 1997 with Naveen Patnaik as its president. The new regional outfit decided to have an electoral alliance with the BJP.
The BJD had instant success winning nine of the lS seats in the 1998 polls while its partner BJP bagged seven. The coalition’s performance was even better in the mid-term Parliamentary polls of 1999 with BJD 10 and BJP nine. The BJD was part of the NDA Government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee.
In the 2000 Assembly polls, the BJD-BJP coalition swept to power with the BJD winning 68 seats and the BJP 38. Patnaik became the Chief Minister and then marched ahead to create a record of having an uninterrupted 14 years of rule which is continuing now.
The BJD-BJP alliance romped to power again in 2004 with the BJD’s 61 and the BJP’s 32 seats. The two parties also continued to dominate the lS polls that year winning 11 and seven seats, respectively. But Patnaik decided to break the alliance just before the 2009 polls and decided to go it alone. The BJD won 103 Assembly seats while the BJP was reduced to a mere six.
In the lS polls held simultaneously, the BJD won 14 of the seats while the BJP drew a blank.
The only regional outfit which sprang up in the early 2000 was the Odisha Gana Parishad (OGP) headed by former BJD stalwart Bijay Mohapatra, who was expelled from the party by Naveen Patnaik. The party also won two Assembly seats in the 2004 polls.
Several other regional parties have also tried their luck in the 2014 elections. They include the Aama Odisha Party floated by journalist-cum-politician Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, the Odisha Jan Mancha led by bureaucrat-turned-politician Pyarimohan Mohapatra who was expelled from the BJD last year and the Koshal Kranti Dal which has been demanding a separate Koshal State.
(The writer is a senior journalist)