Congress revival can split anti-BJD votes

Congress revival can split anti-BJD votes
Congress revival can split anti-BJD votes

Odisha is one of the key eastern states where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to make big gains in the 2019 elections. If this were to happen, it would be redemption of sorts for the party, as it suffered heavy losses in the state after Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) decided to walk out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) just before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP’s post-2009 revival in the state has come at the cost of the Congress, which suffered a big reduction in its seat share and vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. The BJP improved its vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha election compared to that in 2009 by 4.7 percentage points and won one seat. The Congress vote share reduced by 6.7 percentage points between the two elections, and its seat tally reduced from six to zero.

The Congress’s decline continued further in the panchayat polls held in 2017. In the 2012 panchayat elections, the BJP won 36 of 854 seats, while the Congress won 128. In 2017, the BJP won 297 of 845 seats, while the Congress could win only 60.

There is also a geographical divide in the BJP’s resurgence in Odisha. While the Congress performed relatively better in the costal regions of Odisha in 2014, the BJP made major gains in the western region of the state. This region is relatively backward and has a high share of Scheduled Tribe (ST) population. For example, none of the eighth districts in the state with an ST population share above 50%, such as Mayurbhanj, Malkangiri, and Rayagada, are on the coast.

See Map 1A and 1B: Change in BJP and Congress vote share between 2009 and 2014 LS wise

It would be interesting to see whether the BJP continues its consolidation in the western region of the state. It won the Jharkhand – a contiguous region with Western Odisha – assembly elections held soon after the 2014 elections in Odisha.

However the Congress snatched a huge victory in the 2018 Chhattisgarh – another contiguous state – elections, which would have been impossible without a major support among the ST population, 30.62% of the state’s population. This might lead to some sort of revival in the Congress’s support among tribal voters. Whether or not the BJP continues to usurp the Congress’s support base in Odisha will also be a critical factor for the BJD’s fortunes in the state.

In the 2014 elections, the combined vote share of the BJP and the Congress was more than that of the BJD in 13 out of 21 seats. However the division of opposition votes allowed the BJD to win 20 seats in the state. Things could change drastically if the opposition vote were to be polarized behind either the BJP or the Congress.

Such a polarisation would be 20-30 percentage points ahead of the BJD in 4 constituencies, and 10-20 percentage points ahead in three others, according to the 2014 performance of the three parties.

The BJD would be most vulnerable in the interior non-coastal constituencies, such as Kalahandi, Bargarh, Sambalpur, and Sundargarh. See Map 2: Difference between combined vote share of BJP-Cong and BJD in Odisha 2019 will perhaps be a unique election in Odisha, where Naveen Patnaik who is one of the most successful inheritors of the legacy of anti-Congress politics in India, may want the Congress to stay relevant in the state.

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