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Modi wave and anti-BJD votes to help BJP form govt: Dharmendra Pradhan

BJP is eyeing a sizable chunk of the 21 seats in Odisha to compensate for any shortfall elsewhere.

, ET Bureau|
Apr 29, 2019, 08.17 AM IST
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Dharmendra Pradhan said he believed not only will BJP get the ‘extra count’, but will also form the government in the state.
The BJP has a lot riding on the electoral outcome in Odisha. With only one seat in its tally in 2014, there’s scope for more. And at the fag end of the 4-phase election, Dharmendra Pradhan said he believed not only will BJP get the ‘extra count’, but will also form the government in the state. “There’s a Modi Tsunami in Odisha. And he has appealed to people for five years, so he can do five times more than other parties.I am certain the people will support him for both Parliament and state. We will form government in Odisha,” he told ET, explaining that this automatically means BJP is the first choice for Parliament.

For a party that languished at third spot in 2014 with barely 20% vote share, despite a Modi wave, why does he expect such a massive turnaround in 2019? “Last time we did not have the organisation to convert this support into numbers. But in the past five years we have strengthened our organisation and this is now showing. After the Panchayat elections, the gap between us and BJD was down to 7-8%. Not only have we covered that in this election, but have gone beyond.”

Pradhan’s strategy has broadly revolved around three pivots.

A MODI VERSUS PATNAIK CONTEST
The unstated purpose here was to clear any ambiguity of BJP and BJD being on the same side. “PM Modi keeps politics separate from development. He has extended cooperation to all non-BJP states, including Odisha. BJD deliberately utilised this to project that there is a political understanding (with BJP) for their own purpose. Politically, we are clear from day one that we are a different party in Odisha – prime challenger to the 19-year-old anti-poor, anti-Odia Patnaik government,” Pradhan said. “The Centre’s food security support helps over 3.2 crore people. The state scheme of Rs 1 per kg ricehelps23 lakh people.Isthere a comparison?”

CONSOLIDATING THE ANTI-MODI VOTE
One test case is the Jajpur Lok Sabha seat. A BJD citadel for the past two decades, BJP’s share here has remained in single digits historically. Yet,there’s a contest between the two now. Why the hope?In the past three years, the BJP has inducted seven local leaders in the constituency – four BJD rebels and three from the Congress. All of them have contested in one assembly segment or the other and have cornered a large chunk of votes. The BJP is still not sure of a win, but it finds itself in a contest where it had always been a rank outsider. It’s hoping that the Modi vote will lift its chances.

In neighbouring Kendrapara, the BJP’s big catch is sitting MP Baijayant Panda, who quit the BJD. This was Biju Patnaik’s old constituency, again a traditional BJD bastion. The Odisha CM has turned it into a prestige fight but Pradhan is both defiant and confident. “Panda will win by a big margin. Patnaik will face his Waterloo in Kendrapara,” hesaid.

BJP has similarly brought in a range of new faces across the coastal districts, where it had a weak presence. “We have fielded Prakash Mishra, ex-DGP of the state with very high credibility in Cuttack; Aparajita Sarangi, again a credible face and effective administrator in Bhubaneswar. So,we have a composite mix of old and new.”

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PRO-POOR VS WELFARE POLITICS
This is an extension of BJP’s grand strategy across India to create a defined ‘Modi vote’ among the poor through targeted schemes like Ujwala, Saubhagya, Ayushman Bharat and PM Awas Yojna. “Odisha is today the laboratory of Modi’s welfare politics. About 40 lakh households have got LPG, 24 lakh households have got electricity under Saubhagya scheme, 50 lakh toilets have been built. Let Naveen babu show his numbers with an authentic list. They oppose Ayushman Bharat scheme, saying they have their own Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana. But where is the list with a single beneficiary? They just don’t want to implement PM Modi’s popular schemes,” said Pradhan.

This is a carefully built BJP argument that the BJD has also tried to counter by claiming that the Centre is not allowing the State to implement its schemes. As a result, both sides have got themselves a big fight over the farmer income support schemes. So, is it PM Kisan Nidhi versus Patnaik’s Kalia scheme? Pradhan disagrees. “There’s no Kalia, only PM Kisan. Kalia is a stunt.”

So, why has the Election Commission stopped it? “All that the EC asked was the list of beneficiaries and the fund allocation details from the Budget. They don’t have either. No budgetary allocation, no list. So, where does the scheme stand?”

But BJD has alleged a BJP hand in this. “How can any Central government stop a programme funded by the state? They are not even sending the list for PM Kisan. They claim there are 45 lakh farmers with land holding below 5 acres. Send the list, so we can pass the money to the farmer. The PM has made budgetary allocation for 2019-20. But with no list, Odisha farmers are losing out.”

Pradhan has created a campaign pitting Modi against Naveen, while the initial speculation was that he himself may be projected as the face of the campaign. “We are fighting this election in the name of prime minister Modi. And one trend is clear, he (Modi) is on the rise and Naveen babu is on the decline in Odisha.”

But what if BJP needs BJD support to form the next government in the Centre? “I am confident that situation will not arise.”

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