These are happy times for the chief minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik. If the recently announced results of the election to the urban local bodies in the state are anything to go by, then Mr Patnaik and his party, the Biju Janata Dal, are quite safe in the seat of power, and are going to stay put in the coming years. The BJD won 45 of the 66 ULBs in which the elections were held last week. The civic polls were crucial as a dress rehearsal for the big show coming up in 2014, when the assembly elections of Odisha are scheduled to be held. Mr Patnaik’s fervent pre-poll campaigning, in which he travelled in helicopters to far-flung corners of the state asking for votes on behalf of his candidates, obviously paid off. But the BJD’s win this time has not been a cake walk. The party’s confidence had been shaken earlier this year when it suffered defeat in the elections to three newly-formed notified area councils. And Mr Patnaik must have been feeling extra apprehensive in facing the polls this time with his right-hand man of yore, Pyarimohan Mohapatra, gone from his side. Although Mr Mohapatra’s Odisha Jan Morcha stayed out the polls, Mr Mohapatra, now Mr Patnaik’s sworn enemy, had appealed to the people to vote against the BJD.
At the same time, the BJD must have benefited from the waning fortunes of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state. The Congress has won 12 seats and the BJP only one. The Congress’s humiliation is a direct result of the infighting amongst its leaders, who are so busy settling scores with one another that they have no time to put up a united front against Mr Patnaik’s government. The Pradesh Congress Committee under its newly-appointed chief, Jaydev Jena, does not seem to be equipped to bring back the glory days of Odisha’s former Congress chief minister, J.B. Patnaik. It is a sadder story so far as the BJP is concerned. Neither the Narendra Modi wave nor gimmicks like the sale of onions at Rs 10 per kilogram from some major city outlets could save the BJP, a one-time ally of the BJD, from losing face in the state. In this situation, the path ahead for Mr Patnaik seems clear. But the victory also puts an added responsibility on him to follow up on his party’s pre-poll assurances of bringing about better roads, drinking water and health facilities. As Mr Patnaik must be knowing, the electorate is a notoriously difficult lot, which does not take kindly to betrayals of promise.