Last two decades have witnessed a constant change in the political scenario of the country. Starting with the regime change at the centre in 1999, when a coalition government and a non-Congress PM were at the helm for 5 years to the 2014 general elections, which saw the return of BJP with a thumping majority of 282 seats in Lok Sabha after 30 years.
The period also saw the fall of the Communist in West Bengal and Tripura (after decades of being in power), to the rise of new political formations like AAP, which won 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi Assembly.
Barring a few states, changes have been constant all across, except for Odisha and Sikkim, where the two incumbent CMs have managed to hold on to power for the last two decades.
In the case of Sikkim, having assembly strength of 60 members, the tradition has been to align with the majority party in the state, and align with the ruling dispensation at the centre. And to that extent, Sikkim stands out as an aberration, so to speak.
However Odisha, having 147 assembly and 21 LS segments, stood out for the reason that it is for the first time in its 8 decades of being carved out as a state to be governed by a single party with the same chief minister at the helm for 2 decades.
What is also startling is that the ruling BJD has managed to extend its reach across the spectrum, including Panchayati Raj institutions and governing bodies in urban areas.
Such has been the hold of the party that anyone attempting to project alternative to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik within the BJD has been pushed to the oblivion.
However, as the saying goes “change is constant” and Odisha seems to be in the cusp of a change.
Starting from 2015, when the elections to the Panchyati Raj institutions, with BJP winning majority of seats in many districts, including those in coastal Odisha, there has been a constant churning in the political landscape that has exposed the fault lines of the ruling dispensation.
Issues like the elected representatives being subjugated to the whims of the bureaucracy with fingers pointing towards a particular non-Odia bureaucrat calling the shots, to the incidences of increasing violence against women, to farmer suicides, to name a few, have generated much heat and debate all across the State.
Thanks to the media management of the power that incidences like Kunduli gang rape did not get national media attention, akin to Kathua, but definitely dented the Teflon image of the CM.
The alleged involvement of many high functionaries of the BJD in the chit fund scam, which robbed millions of people in Odisha, has caused much consternation amongst the common people who have started, openly, voicing about the conduct of the ruling party.
Added to all these, established and senior leaders of the BJD have overtly and covertly voiced their displeasure about the way the party and the government have been conducting themselves.
Voices of dissents, in the past, were dealt with a high handed approach and the void in the alternative space ensured that they were pushed to the margins, not to be heard again.
However, the turn of events in the recent past has shown that such voices are resonating and the BJP is being seen as an effective alternative.
Gone are the days when the party was ridiculed as a party of signboard having limited influence.
Under the dynamic leadership of Sh. Narendra Modi at the centre and Sh. Dharmendra Pradhan at the state, many disillusioned voices within the BJD are seeking for BJP.
Sample what Mr. Baijyanta Panda, a former senior leader of the BJD said, in a reply to a tweet asking him what was it that made him to join BJP and alluding that may be he was lured by financial gains to join BJP, that it was dignity and the air of ease within BJP which made him join after 8 months of self -deliberation.
This brings out two significant facts (i) the BJD and its functionaries (both inside the party and inside the bureaucracy) have become so arrogant that even founder members feel suffocated, (ii) BJP provides a platform to voice concern about the well being of Odias and Odisha unlike the ruling party which is concerned about its own well being.
The day Mr. Panda joined, another Senior MP Mr. Tathagata Satapathy announced his retirement from politics on the ostensible plea that he wanted to pursue independent journalism, which on the face of it may seem as a tempting explanation but a little bit of scratching the surface would show that even he was not spared of the toeing the CM’s line nay the diktat of the non-odia bureaucrat.
Mr. Panda and Satapathy are only two examples of the old hands within the BJD getting short shrift, there are many like Mr. Damodar Raut who was a powerful minister not long back who was expelled from the party.
At the district level also many party functionary, who had been with the party since its inception, have been side lined/expelled and it is an open secret that the party is a divided house and many grass root workers and leaders are disenchanted, ready to break ranks.
All these portend to a feeling that there is change in the air and it’s a matter of time that Odisha would see an upheaval notwithstanding the tall claims and schemes launched by the Govt.
(The author is a Supreme Court advocate. Views expressed are personal.)