Odisha recently conducted its panchayat polls. This coastal state with a majority of tribal population has constantly seen Bijiu Janata Dal (now headed by Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik) at its helm. Odisha, with 853 Zilla Parishad (district council) members, 6,802 Sarpanches (village council heads), 6,801 Panchayat Samiti (village council) members and 92,052 ward members took on its first phase of election wherein 2,60,92,507 voters exercised their democratic rights.
After the State Election Commission (SEC) announced the polls, several issues started to cause a hindrance in the political parties’ campaigns. While the parties were busy in making candidature lists and deciding their strategies, several newspapers focused on the lack of funds at the grass root levels. The Subarnapur district panchayat complained about the BJD eating away the funds. Additionally, the Maoist in the Malkangiri district threatened people to boycott elections, particularly in cut-off areas of the district, sending shivers to the voters and the poll officials. To top it all, the chit fund feud burst, leading to the arrests of TMC leaders Tapas Pal and Sudip Bandopadhay with rumors flying around about the BJD’s links with the scam.
The poll code violence of the ruling party and the recommendations made by the Opposition to the SEC regarding this towards the BJD is in itself a concern for the voters creating a buzz . The Opposition has started building blocks in state politics and with various scams and violations being reported, BJD’s position is now, somewhat, at a stake. The promotional campaigns were being censored from media by the SEC as they promoted the schemes by the Chief Minister. Meanwhile, besides the threatening Maoist posters, poll boycott movements were carried out in the Berhampur district where panchayat leaders were unhappy about their allocations to new panchayats.
More issues followed during pre-polls where the panchayat leaders were injured in a violent breakout at Ganjam district. Naveen Pattnaik, rallying at various parts of the state, mentioned about the star struck election campaigns, but the voters had already got the tune of the lullaby. The BJP was also not far away from strategising. The Chattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh, promoting the party on the eve of the panchayat elections led to the BJP scoring its own goal.
The Mahanadi Water dispute however, makes things worse for BJD as the battle for water has distorted ties. Odisha was alarmed by Chattisgarh building 13 barrages across the river, something that CM Naveen Pattnaik’s vehemently opposed. In this situation, when Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh came to the state for campaigning, the BJD’s position seemed to be jeopardized. Even now, as Singh tours Odisha, the BJD has been organising Jal Satyagraha at Cuttack, Sambalpur and Sundargarh while the Congress cries foul on the issue, disapproving Singh’s visit.
The panchayat polls seem to be riding against the tide, this time with BJP ready for a strong opposition at the ballot box. Several events have created a cloud of trouble for the BJD in the first phase of Panchayat polls. It is time for a change for Odisha where people have had enough of slumber.