New Delhi, Feb 16 (HT) : Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is emerging as the principal opposition party in Odisha politics with impressive gains in the ongoing panchayat elections in the state.
The BJP won 71 of the 188 zilla parishad seats that went to polls in the first phase of voting held on Monday. It’s a 10-fold jump compared to seven seats that the party had won in 2012.
The eastern state is holding elections to its local bodies – comprising 854 seats -- in five phases ending February 21. The second round of polling – in 175 seats -- was held on Wednesday, with a voter turnout of 73%. While results of this round are expected Thursday, unofficial reports suggest the BJP has sustained the momentum.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal continues to lead, but the gap with the Opposition has significantly narrowed because of the surprise gains by the BJP. The Congress party appears decimated, winning just 11 seats in the first phase.
Encouraged by the results of the first phase, Prime Minister Modi on Wednesday thanked the people of Odisha and congratulated local party officials for the good work they had done.
In 2012, the BJP won just 36 of the total 854 zilla parishad seats. The BJD had won 656 and the Congress had won 126 seats.
The performance of the BJP comes as a warning to both Naveen Patnaik and the Congress party, which has steadily lost ground in the state that it ruled for decades but is now reduced to a marginal player.
Patnaik, who is in his record term as fourth time CM, has so far been seen as invincible. But that may no longer be the case if the BJP continues to do as well in the remaining phases of the panchayat elections as it has done in the first two phases.
Voting for the third phase will be held on Friday.