As counting of votes casted during 2019 Lok Sabha elections begin, BJP is likely to put a strong show in Odisha, even possibly limiting the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD seat tally to single digits. BJP has emphasised on states outside the Hindi heartland during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and Odisha has been one of the key fronts that the party targeted. The state has been a bastion of Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which also holds power in the state Legislative Assembly. The state has 21 Lok Sabha constituencies, 20 out of which were won by BJD in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The lone seat for BJP was won by Jual Oram, who went on to become the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs.
As BJP struggled to establish itself in Odisha after 2009 - the year Naveen Patnaik broke ties with NDA - Congress emerged as BJD's principal opposition in the state. Over the course of time, Congress lost its grip on the state, whereas BJP rose to the position of primary contender to the Naveen Patnaik-led party. A glimpse of this was seen in the last local body elections in Odisha where BJP spurred to claim the second spot, while the Congress finished third by a wide margin.
And this time around, BJP is going after the top spot in Odisha. The saffron party has once again fielded Oram from the Sudargarh seat, who is facing BJD's Sunita Vishwal and Congress' George Tirkey. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra is contesting from Puri Lok Sabha seat against BJD's Pinaki Mishra and Congress' Satya Prakash Nayak.
But the battle to look out for is based in the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat of Odisha. BJP has nominated Baijayant Panda from the seat, who joined the party after being suspended from BJD. He is facing BJD's actor-turned-politician Anubhav Mohanty.
Panda, who once was very close to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, was suspended from BJD earlier this year over allegations of anti-party activities. Although his primary challenger, Mohanty is not a political heavyweight, the real fight was between old friends Panda and Patnaik.
And a lot is at stake for both bigwigs of Odisha politics. A defeat on Panda's part will be a huge political setback for the longstanding parliamentarian. On the other hand, BJD's loss from Kendrapara will be seen as a huge personal loss for the Odisha Chief Minister.
Moreover, there are speculations that BJD might once again return to NDA. Naveen Patnaik has stated that BJD is ready to form a post-poll alliance with anyone willing to fulfill their demands. The warm hospitality extended by the Odisha CM to PM Modi during visit to assess the situation after Cyclone Fani is being seen as a sign of BJD's inclination towards BJP.