Exodus of nearly 2 dozen BJD leaders, including former MPs and MLAs, to the saffron brigade has posed a challenge to the ruling party in Odisha.
BHUBANESWAR: Having lost three of its sitting Lok Sabha members and five MLAs to the BJP, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha finds itself at crossroads. Exodus of nearly two dozen leaders of the party, including former Lok Sabha members and MLAs, to the saffron brigade has led the regional party to the brink of a do-or-die battle with the BJP, currently the second major power in the state.
The BJD faces a daunting task of defending its fortress from the belligerent poll preparation of the saffron brigade.
Eyeing to win 120-plus seats in the 147-member Assembly, the BJP has accommodated all the BJD turncoats and given them tickets to fight Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
What has crippled the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is that it has no strong voices to defend the party against the acerbic attacks by BJP spokespersons.
With all its communication channels almost floundering, the regional BJD is now banking upon its cadres at the grassroots to stop the BJP from what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said a Tripura-like victory.
Four Lok Sabha MPs — Baijayant Panda, Pratyusha Rajeshwari, Babhadra Majhi and Arka Keshari Deo — resigned from the BJD expressing their displeasure over the way the party is being run by a few "arrogant" persons, including a bureaucrat.
The saffron party which was looking for sending a strong message to the voters that it was enjoying the growing support of the masses, immediately lapped them up.
Mr Panda, who is now BJP national vice-president, is trying his luck from Kendrapara which he has represented twice in the Lok Sabha while Balabhadra Majhi is seeking re-election from Nabarangpur. Pratyusha Rajeswari has been roped in as party's campaign head for Nayagarh district.
Left with no alternative to keep its herd together, the BJD, like in the previous elections, has started banking upon its oft-criticised "poaching" strategy. It has already wooed successfully two of the BJP-ticket holders Bhagirathi Sethi of Anandpur and Tusharkanta Behera of Kakatpur to its side, thus dealing blows to the saffron brigade.
BJD spokesperson Dr Sasmit Patra has claimed that 12 more BJP-ticket holders for Assembly polls will soon join the BJD.
Analysts believe the BJP has little to lose as those who are switching sides hail from coastal Odisha where the saffron party has no strong base. These seats, now represented by the BJD, are most likely to stay with the party, provided that the sitting lawmakers do not raise the banner of revolt against the new candidates.
In its pursuit to register the fifth straight win, the BJD which won 117 Assembly seats and 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, has changed its candidates in more than half of the places, attracting a revolt by the deprived candidates. Many of the deprived candidates have jumped into the poll fray on BJP and Congress tickets while others have fielded their nominations as independents.
What is plaguing the BJD more is the lack of credible faces to defend the party against the attacks by tall leaders of rival parties and star campaigners. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah aided by Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan are leading the saffron brigade, Congress president Rahul Gandhi himself is spearheading his party's fight. On the other hand, the 73-year-old BJD president Naveen Patnaik, who is struggling to walk properly, is carrying all the responsibility on his shoulders. Since he has shunted out almost all the tall leaders of his party, including the founder members, ostensibly to perpetuate his own order, the BJD supremo is perhaps playing the most difficult game, presumably the penultimate one, in his political career spanning a little over two decades.