Anti-incumbency, BJP's dominance, and push back after Municipal Election drubbing - challenges were many for Naveen Patnaik.
Anti-incumbency, BJP’s dominance, and push back after Municipal Election drubbing – challenges were many for Naveen Patnaik. Yet, he managed to scale the Bijepur bypoll with distinction. The by-election, touted to be the semi-finals before Lok Sabha and Assembly election in the state next year, was elevated from a generic by-poll to a battle of prestige. So much so, that Naveen Patnaik had himself campaigned for his party candidate. On the other hand, there was the Bharatiya Janata Party buoyed by its performance in civic body polls which saw a 9-fold increase in the party’s seat share. Remarkably, Congress was seen nowhere in the contest despite the fact that the seat was held by the party for three consecutive terms. And as an end result, BJD’s candidate Ritarani Sahu (wife of the deceased sitting MLA), sailed through the challenge with ease.
Though the contest was a matter of a single assembly seat, it holds higher significance and reflects the efforts being made by Pattnaik to revive his party’s image. The Odisha chief minister re-invented himself with well-planned publicity campaign. Giant billboards sporting Pattnaik’s face with the slogan “Katha nuhen kathina parishram (not words, but hard work)” were seen in the entire state. Despite a reported neck pain, Patnaik travelled through a dozen cities and addressed multiple rallies and gatherings throughout the state. Not only the campaign, Patnaik was also seen making some organisational restructuring. In May, he removed a number of cabinet ministers and directed them to work for strengthening the organisation.
In December, the chief minister sacked senior cabinet colleague Damodar Rout for his alleged casteist remarks against Brahmins. And in the latest, Patnaik suspended Baijayant Panda, party’s Lok Sabha MP. Patnaik is also way more active on social media with news and views being pushed out from his twitter handle at a greater pace. The Odisha Chief Minister now has more than two million followers on Twitter.
In October 2017, he directed the IAS officers to visit districts at least four times a month to undertake a reality check of the progress achieved in implementing key government schemes. Patnaik was also lauded for his decision to launch a free sanitary napkin scheme for 1.7 million girl students of the state.
All in all, Patnaik seems to have taken the challenge of anti-incumbency and heightened efforts from BJP with all seriousness. And for now, he has been able to contain it.