Recently, Union Minister and BJP’s so-called Odisha chief ministerial candidate Dharmendra Pradhan made a very sarcastic statement regarding the exodus of party workers saying that certain people have a different DNA and some people find it uncomfortable in a cadre party (BJP). No doubt, Pradhan’s reference was at Bijoy Mohapatra and Dilip Ray, the two veteran leaders who quit the party due to their growing frustrations at the leadership and apathetic attitude of the Modi government towards Odisha. But the Union Minister’s statement holds much significance from the party’s historical perspectives in Odisha. There were a number of leaders from the Congress and the then Janata Dal who at once joined the BJP just to find that their DNAs did not match with the party and subsequently abandoned it.
The BJP’s predecessor Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) was founded in 1951. During the initial days, the BJS did not have a base in Odisha. It had made a silent foray into the State in 1964. In 1980, the BJP was formed at the national level based on hardcore Hindutva ideology, the acceptance of which was considerably poor in a secular state like Odisha. In 1985, the BJP contested 64 assembly seats and managed to win just one seat. The party had contested six seats in 1989 Lok Sabha elections, and could win 1.5% of total votes.
The BJP saw its gloden period in Odisha poltics when it joined hands with the newly formed Biju Janata Dal (BJD) headed by Naveen Patnaik. Both the BJP and BJD jointly contested 1998 Lok Sabha elections and secured 16 seats out of 21. BJP contested 9 seats and won 7 seats. It repeated the electoral success in 1999 with 9 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha. The alliance got 114 seats in 147 assembly seats in 2000 elections with BJP winning 38 seats out of 63 it contested on the back of strong Naveen wave.
The BJP’s fate changed drastically in Odisha politics ever since the ruling BJD ended the alliance with the saffron outfit prior to the 2009 elections. The party lost its holds in several parts in the State and eventually suffered an existential crisis. Many non-core BJP leaders who joined the party gradually felt alienation and developed discontent within the party. The BJP had witnessed the exodus of key leaders in regular intervals. What was more disheartening to note the fact that the saffron party had saw exit of its core leaders.
Prominent Leaders Who Abandoned the BJP
The history of exodus of leaders from the BJP remains hazy, but it can be tentatively assumed that the process began with Bed Prakash Agarawalla, a six-time legislator and a prominent Janata Dal leader known for his influence in the coastal region in the State. Agarawalla had joined the BJP after quitting Janata Dal and won the assembly election in 2000 when the saffron party was an alliance partner of BJD. He had also held several cabinet portfolios from 2000 to 2004. Agarawalla, who had no RSS background, had gradually felt discontent at the leadership of Odisha BJP and subsequently left the party and joined the BJD.
Another Janata Dal leader Brundaban Majhi had joined the BJP and switched to the BJD in 2009. Bimbadhar Kuar, a Janata Dal leader had joined the BJP and was Labour and Employment minister in the first BJD-BJP coalition government in 2000. He was also a state president of BJP. The former Bhatli MLA from Bargarh District abandoned the BJP as he was repeatedly humiliated by the core members of the party and was ignored in party activities. He joined the BJD.
Golak Nayak, a prominent leader in the Mayurbhanj district, started his political career with the BJP. He was a minister in the Naveen Patnaik's ministry from 2000 to 2009 until his party's alliance broke with BJD. He was also the national general secretary of the party's Scheduled Tribe Morcha. Nayak had resigned from the BJP protesting the attitude of the senior leaders and joined the BJD. Now he is one of the key leaders in the ruling party.
Sananda Marandi, an influential leader from Baripada also started with political career with the saffron party, but later joined the BJD. He has been elected to the assembly twice on the BJD tickets. He is now the deputy speaker of the Odisha Assembly.
Arabinda Dhali, a prominent tribal leader from Malkangiri was one of the key members of the BJP. He was also a minister in BJD-BJP alliance. He had quit from BJP to join Bharatiya Janshakti Party in 2006 and later joined the BJD.
Rama Chandra Panda popularly known as Rama Panda, was one of the core members of the BJP in Ganjam District. He also served as Deputy Speaker of Assembly from 27 March 2000 to 6 February 2004. He was also the National Vice-President of BJP Kisan Morcha and was the State Executive Member of BJP, Odisha Unit. But he left the saffron party due to the negligent approach of the State BJP leadership towards him and joined the BJD in 2017.
There are also instances of many Congress leaders who quit the party and joined the BJP, but later abandoned the saffron party and returned back to their old party or took retirement from active politics. The list of such leaders includes Tara Prasad Bahinipati, Kumudini Patnaik, Rama Krushna Patnaik, Uma Balav Rath, Braja Kishor Tripathy and Bijoy Mohapatra.
More Complex Scenario Now Than Before in Odisha BJP
Despite frequent visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah to Odisha, there is no end in exodus of leaders and workers from the saffron party. And their blue-eyed boy and party’s projected face for the 2019 assembly elections, Dharmendra Pradhan is under tremendous pressure for failing to stop exodus of BJP leaders and workers.
In the political circle, it is being often debated that Pradhan is not a part of the solution, rather he is a problem. His arrogance and dictatorial style of functioning has often surpassed the democratic voices within the party and promoted factionalism, a terrible trend that virtually ended hopes of party’s revival in Odisha.
As per reports, more than 70 per cent of grassroots level workers who joined the BJP two and half years ago are now no more with the party due to this reason.
Apart from this, the undisputable popularity of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his strong leadership is another reason for the fall of BJP in Odisha.