The suspense over the Bihar Assembly election continued well past Tuesday midnight but in Odisha, where bypolls had been held in two Assembly segments, it was business as usual for Naveen Patnaik’s BJD. The regional party won the two seats with its signature confidence.
Fresh elections to Balasore and Tirtol were necessitated after the demise of the sitting legislators Madan Mohan Dutta (BJP) and Bishnu Charan Das (BJD) respectively. In both constituencies, their sons were fielded by the respective parties to cash in on the sympathy votes but Naveen’s BJD ensured that there weren’t any surprises.
The Tirtol seat was won by a 41,000-plus margin by Bijaya Shankar Das whereas in Balasore, the BJD’s Swarup Kumar Das, a first-timer, defeated the saffron party’s Manas Kumar Dutta by over 13,000 votes. The BJD also improved its vote share to 52.36% in the two seats.
The Balasore victory has a quiet message—Naveen’s election-winning formula remains unmatched. While the BJP swept the bypolls across Gujarat, UP, MP and even won the lone seat up for grabs in Telangana, signalling PM Narendra Modi’s undiminished popularity, it failed to retain its seat in Balasore that comes under Union Minister Pratap Sarangi’s Lok Sabha constituency.
However, the polls are not about the BJP and certainly not about the Congress, which managed to forfeit its deposit in Balasore and lost a considerable vote share across the two seats. It is about Naveen’s invincibility as a leader and the respect he commands among the voters. In the last 20 years of his reign, he has not lost a general election. Only twice has his party been defeated in bypolls—Talasara (in 2006) and Laxmipur (in 2008), where the Congress retained the seats.
Defying the Modi wave twice is no mean achievement but Naveen has shown that he is much more than a staggering election machine. It is his deeper understanding of the subtext of Odia culture and his style of pro-people politics and governance that have given him the unsurpassable cult status he enjoys today. That’s something the opposition parties have found hard to decode.