Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when Narendra Modi gave the slogan of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, it was liked by several non-Congress parties, including Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD), as it considered the country’s oldest party as its main rival. The Naveen Patnaik-led regional party joined hands with the BJP and became a part of the NDA to keep the Congress out of the cheap. The BJD-BJP ran a coalition government in Odisha from 2000 to 2009, but the two parties lost their camaraderie over the issue of seat-sharing and parted ways.
After 20 years of joining the non-Congress campaign, when the ruling party uprooted the Congress from the grassroots level, it now finds itself in a difficult position, with the BJP emerging as the main rival. A senior vice-president of BJD also pointed this out. BJD leaders now realize that making Odisha ‘Congress-mukt’ did not benefit the regional party, but gave the BJP an opportunity to rise.
BJP has started garnering most of the votes of tribal, dalit, backward class in the elections, which was once the vote base for the Congress. The minorities, which form the vote base of the Congress, have also turned away from the BJD. Not getting minority votes is also not a problem for the BJP in Odisha, as Christians constitute 2.77 per cent of the total population and Muslims 2.17 per cent. Hence the Hindutva policy of the BJP is enough for the spread of the saffron party in Odisha.
In order to cut the Hindutva image of BJP, BJD chief Naveen Patnaik has made a policy after 2019, under which religious places of different religions are being developed. The state government has started the Jagannath Heritage Corridor project at a cost of Rs 3,200 crore. Naveen Patnaik called Lord Jagannath a symbol of Odia honor and pride.
The CM has also announced a package of Rs 200 crore for the development of Maa Samleswari Temple in Sambalpur. In the budget for 2021-22, the state government allocated Rs 742 crore for development of Jagannath Shrine in Puri and Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar. Support to temples has also been announced in Mayurbhanj and Kendrapara.
Patnaik, who will turn 75 on October 16, 2021, has been the chief minister since 2000. He has never been seen so religiously active. However, like his father Biju Patnaik, he visits the Jagannath temple to launch the election campaign and after his victory. Since 2019, Patnaik has been focusing on religious issues and making policies keeping in mind the Odia language and culture, to counter the BJP. CPI(M) leader Ali Kishor Patnaik says, “In his 5th term, Naveen Patnaik has started following the path of soft Hindutva.”