THE ODISHA RED CARPET
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
WATCH THE WAVE PM Modi waves to supporters at Bhubaneswar airport