This is the season for desertions and rebellion. Jumping ship becomes the norm as political loyalties go with the wind. Odisha had been relatively untouched by this discomfiting occurrence for over two decades, thanks to an absolute hegemony established by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The playing field was sharply slanted in favour of the BJD. In 2019 however, there are signs that the status quo might change.
BJD chief Naveen is battling an anti-incumbency of nearly 20 years of uninterrupted rule. So there was likely a political compulsion for him to bring in sweeping changes in the candidate lists.
But the fallout has been unexpected. Never before has Naveen faced such large-scale desertions.
In 2014 too, he had made substantial changes to the candidate list but the flock almost entirely remained with him. This year, already three sitting MPs, four MLAs and many senior leaders have quit the party even when it has released the list for only less than half the seats in the state.
This is indication enough that the ruling party is no longer as indestructible as it was five years ago.
The BJP, on the other hand, appears to have parked the bus outside Naveen Niwas, the CM’s residence, to ferry the rejects to its office. It has made a deliberate strategy to make a spectacle of accepting BJD rebels to strengthen public perception of its rise in the state just ahead of elections.
However, in the process, the saffron party has begun to suffer from the same pangs its rival is facing. Open rebellion over ticket selection has spilled on to the streets.
The BJP headquarters was locked up for two days, its leaders’ houses were stoned and local offices ransacked in many districts. The two-way defection route between the BJD and the BJP has pushed the Congress to the margins, but the party still characteristically battles serious infighting. The grand old party has some chances in South Odisha, but local powerhouses there are threatening an open revolt. With elections to start in a few weeks, the foremost job for the parties is to set their houses in order.