The 2019 general elections were an amazing phenomenon in Odisha. Though simultaneous elections to the Parliament and the State Assembly are being conducted in the State since 2004, the voters had never chosen split- voting system.
They used to vote for the same party at the Center and the State. For instance, in 2014 elections, the BJD had bagged 116 Assembly and 20 Parliament seats. But the situation changed in 2019. People chose BJP for the Center and the BJD for the State. In the Assembly poll, the BJD bagged 113 seats as against 23 of the BJP while in Parliament voting, the BJD lost 8 seats to settle at 12 and the BJP gained 7 seats to settle at 8.
The vote share of the BJP in the 2019 Parliament poll was 38.4 per cent, a 16.9 per cent increase than its previous poll share whereas the BJD’s vote share fell by 1.3 per cent to 42.8 per cent level. On the other hand,the BJD’s vote share “increased” by 1.3 per cent to reach 44.7 per cent level in the Assembly poll and that of the BJP increased marginally to 32.5 per cent by 14.4 per cent.
There was clearly 2 different vote shares of the two parties in the Parliament and the Assembly poll. Similar, split -voting was witnessed during 2017 Panchayat poll where the BJP got many Zilla Parishad seats whereas the BJD bagged Sarapanch and Sammittee member seats.
While speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the motion of thanks on President’s address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded Odisha voters for their intelligence and maturity. He said,“Though Odisha is a largely rural area and not among the prosperous States, still its voters have chosen one party in Lok Sabha and another in Assembly.”
The Prime Minister’s outlook was positive towards the ‘spilt voting’ of Odisha as it was a pro-BJP Parliament- voting pattern. But the other side of the story was negative for the BJP. The voters preferred the BJD for the State power and centrifuged theBJP. Why did the BJD’s vote share increase in the Assembly poll instead of decreasing due to anti-incumbency?
One key factor for the BJP’s failure in the last State election was the absence of micro-organization and unsustainability of its occupied Assembly seats. The State BJP was more obsessed with Center Modi-wave, media campaigns and rallies than working at booth levels. The challenge for the new State BJP president is to correct this weakness and focus on ground, instead of depending on the Center
During the UPA time, the State Congress did the same blunder of depending too much on the Central unit instead of building grass root structures. It is like the drought affected Indian farmers waiting year after year for monsoon instead of digging theirown irrigation well to avoid drought.
In fact, the State BJP has always suffered due to its less focus on micro- organisation and its inability to repeat victory in its occupied Assembly Constituencies.
The first-phase growth of the BJP in Odisha occurred during 1980-1998 phase. During its formation year, the BJP had put up 28 Assembly candidates in 1980 poll in the State but failed to win any seat. In the 1985 Assembly election, the party opened its account by winning the Kamakhyanagar seat in Dhenkanal district. In 1990 Assembly poll, the party improved its performance and bagged 2 seats . 1995 Assembly election brought significant victory to the BJP. The State unit got 9 Assembly seats with 7.88 percent vote share, contesting for the first time in almost all seats. There has been slow growth of the party in the state due to the dominance of Biju Patnaik in the anti-Congress politics who was not inclined to share platform with the BJP.
The second phase growth of BJP occurred during 1998-2009 period in Odisha when the party formed alliance with the newly formed BJD to fight the Parliament and the Assembly elections. It formed the State Government as junior partner to the BJD in 2000 and 2004. In 2000 Assembly election, the Party got 18 per cent vote share and won 38 Assembly seats .In 2004 general election , the BJP got 32 Assembly seats in the same geography and bagged 17 per cent vote share.This period was the golden period of the State BJP.
The third phase in the BJP’s evolution occurred during 2009-2017 period. It was a devastating period for the State unit of the party. The BJD-BJP alliance collapsed before 2009 poll and the BJP had to fight the election alone. Its Assembly seat tally dropped to 6 in 2009 and 10 in 2014.The cause of 2009 and 2014 poll disaster was the absence of sustainability efforts to retain the previously occupied 38/32 Assembly constituencies.
The year 2017 marked the beginning of the fourth phase of Odisha BJP’s life. The party won an unprecedented massive Zilla Parishad seats in 2017 panchayat poll. The momentum continued till the 2019 general elections.
The split voting is a voter shield for BJD boss and CM Naveen Patnaik which may make 2024 Assembly poll more challenging for the BJP. The new State BJP president may focus on the sustainability of its occupied Assembly constituencies as well as replicate the models of Bhubaneswar MP and Puri / Brahmagiri/ Parlakhemundi MLAs to compete with the BJD in the coastal or general caste regions in 2024 Assembly poll.