India might have been swept off its feet by a Modi tsunami, but in Odisha, Naveen Patnaik has proved the undisputed king, leading BJD to a landslide victory bagging 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha and 117 of 147 Assembly seats. Turning all pre- and exit-poll projections, a perceived anti-incumbency factor and an all-encompassing saffron surge on their heads, the Naveen Patnaik juggernaut pulverised the opposition BJP and Congress on its way to retain power for a record fourth term—putting up his best ever performance in the Lok Sabha and Assembly till date.
The Odisha story, though stupefying for political pundits and analysts, has been an equal shocker for Naveen Patnaik and his party leaders. That they did not anticipate such an overwhelming mandate in the elections was evident from the behaviour of senior party leaders, with some even talking up alliance with NDA, amid speculation over Patnaik’s frequent trips to New Delhi in the run-up to the counting.
These elections, however, have projected a complete failure of the state BJP to capitalise on the Modi wave to make a dent in the BJD fort. The Modi factor, which was hyped to have fuelled a late surge for the state BJP, did not translate into votes as the party did not have the base to build on the momentum. While the utter failure of BJP in strengthening its organisation in the state post the 2009 split with the BJD has been exposed, it can thank Modi for having delivered two seats to it.
The anti-incumbency factor and multitude of scams like mining and chitfund also did not prove any deterrent. Instead, the overtly populist schemes like `1 kg rice, free cycles and laptops, clothing and umbrellas, etc. got a thumping stamp of approval from the voters.
The over-riding factor in the polls that comes to the fore is an absolute lack of any alternative to Naveen Patnaik in the state. With his popularity and image of an incorruptible person intact, Patnaik towered head and shoulders over his challengers state Congress president Jaydev Jena and state BJP chief K V Singhdeo.
An astute game-plan by the regional party, where it practically dismembered the principal opponent Congress only days ahead of the announcement of polls, gave it an edge. While Congress was busy setting its house in order after large-scale desertions engineered by the BJD, its battle-ready opponent surged ahead consolidating its position in the ensuing polls.
The stupendous victory has granted an aura of invincibility to Naveen Patnaik in Odisha. Bettering the tally of 2009 on his own, after the bitter fallout with his mentor and one-time party chief strategist Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, he demolished all doubts over his ability and political acumen.
However, as Patnaik stands among the troika of regional satraps Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee who have thwarted the Modi wave, he will have to maintain a delicate balancing act with the Centre in view of not only the demand for Special Category status but also the spectre of CBI probe into the chitfund scam hanging over it. With the state BJP fiercely antagonistic towards any dalliance with the BJD after being unceremoniously dumped in 2009, and the former having secured the requisite numbers at the Centre, it will not be an easy task.