For the first time in 17 years, the chinks in Naveen Patnaik’s armour have been exposed. The aura of invincibility around the BJD supremo seems to have fizzled out. The results of the panchayat polls have stunned not just poll pundits but also the ruling party which has lost over 180 Zilla Parishad zones compared to 651 seats it bagged in 2012.
On the other hand, the BJP has risen from a measly 36 seats five years ago to a tally close to 300, a ten-time surge that surprised the party itself. It not just grabbed the vote bank of a sinking Congress, but breached the once impregnable BJD fort. Not only did it sweep Western Odisha, it even blanked BJD in Kalahandi. Significantly, it made inroads into BJD strongholds in coastal districts. In Maoist-hit districts, the BJP has peformed impressively. What must alarm Naveen is BJD’s poor performance in tribal belts where his charisma had no parallel till 2014.
The polls, fought at a scale not seen before, have proved Naveen’s tribal appeasement politics have failed. It also indicated that public perception of the four-time CM, the man of all seasons for BJD in last two decades, has taken a beating. Known to crack the whip at the mere hint of corruption allegations, Naveen’s inaction against partymen involved in the Ponzi scam sent wrong signals to voters. His sole mantra of doling out freebies and his so-called pro-poor programmes have proved to be the antithesis of BJD’s development model. The Economic Survey 2016-17 says Odisha’s farm sector is grappling with rising unemployment. The revolt by drought-hit farmers, malnourishment deaths in Jajpur and the Japanese Encephalitis outbreak in Malkangiri gave ample hints that not all was well. Most importantly, the BJD misread the aspirations of the youth, the biggest vote base. This generation wants change, not just promises. The BJD must shed its arrogance and get its ears back to the ground. With Assembly polls two years away, not everything is lost yet for Naveen.