THE ODISHA RED CAR­PET

India Today - - INSIDE - —San­tosh Ku­mar

Odisha BJP lead­ers begged Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to run from Puri, home of the Ja­gan­nath tem­ple, in 2019. It would be a pro­pi­tious next step, they said, in­vok­ing his po­lit­i­cal be­gin­nings in Gu­jarat, home of Dwarka and the Som­nath tem­ple, and Varanasi, his cur­rent con­stituency, home of the Kashi Vish­wanath tem­ple. Modi had swept into Bhubaneswar, cap­i­tal of Odisha, to a rap­tur­ous re­cep­tion to at­tend the BJP na­tional ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing held on April 15-16.

Good tid­ings pre­ceded his ar­rival. In the re­cently con­cluded lo­cal body elec­tions, the BJP came from nowhere to fin­ish a com­pet­i­tive sec­ond to the Biju Janata Dal, a lo­cal pow­er­house, which un­til the 2009 gen­eral elec­tions had been a stal­wart ally of the saf­fron party. In the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions, the BJD had won 20 out of 21 seats. “Amit Shah,” says a lo­cal BJP leader, “wants a saf­fron govern­ment in Odisha at any cost.” Eas­ier said, given that in­cum­bent CM Naveen Pat­naik has been around since 2000, and is the long­est serv­ing CM in the his­tory of the state.

Cer­tainly, the grand meet­ing helped gen­er­ate more than a lit­tle ex­cite­ment. For Modi, the meet­ing was the con­clu­sion to a pro­ces­sion filled with dance, mu­sic and wild en­thu­si­asm that so moved him that he of­ten left his car to walk among the sup­port­ers.

But de­spite the air of cel­e­bra­tion, for party pres­i­dent Shah and Modi, there was se­ri­ous busi­ness at hand. The BJP is at its po­lit­i­cal zenith, win­ning so hand­somely in so many states that it is em­bold­ened to go af­ter more seats, cer­tain that the land­slide of 2014 can be con­sol­i­dated fur­ther. Odisha was a sym­bolic choice to host a meet­ing.

BJP lead­ers de­rided the Congress and other Op­po­si­tion par­ties for hold­ing up in the Ra­jya Sabha a pro­posal to grant the newly cre­ated OBC com­mis­sion con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus. OBC votes, as shown in 2014 and again in the BJP’s huge vic­tory in Ut­tar Pradesh, have be­come cru­cial to the party’s cal­cu­la­tions. Shah has an­nounced an am­bi­tious 95-day tour of lo­cal BJP booths across the coun­try. He pro­claimed in Odisha that the BJP’s “golden era” would be­gin only when they had chief min­is­ters in ev­ery state and ruled from pan­chayat to Par­lia­ment. “We need,” Modi said, “a com­mit­ted worker like our na­tional pres­i­dent in each booth.”

Odisha was, as Modi and Shah en­vis­aged it, an­other very public op­por­tu­nity to send out a fa­mil­iar BJP mes­sage: There Is No Al­ter­na­tive.

The pro­ces­sion to the meet­ing and the wild en­thu­si­asm so moved him that PM Modi of­ten left his car to walk among the sup­port­ers

PTI

WATCH THE WAVE PM Modi waves to sup­port­ers at Bhubaneswar air­port

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