A war of words between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has surcharged the poll atmosphere in Odisha where Lok Sabha and Assembly elections are being held simultaneously.

An acrimonious battle of words between the BJD and the BJP began after Modi first attacked Patnaik for his perceived lack of command over Odia language. The next Chief Minister of Odisha will be a son of the soil, said Modi. Letters written by Patnaik in Odia were soon found to be circulated in social media.

Word war

Modi has been addressing rallies at different locations in the State and inviting people to join the swearing-in ceremony of a BJP Chief Minister at Bhubaneswar on June 10. He fired another salvo saying that if Patnaik could name all districts of Odisha with their headquarters and name 10 villages under Kantabanji Assembly constituency from where he is seeking election.

Patnaik and his party have been prompt to react. The five-time Chief Minister retorted saying that the BJP was “daydreaming” and accused its leaders of telling “lies” and shedding “crocodile tears” for Odisha. The BJP can’t win Odisha people’s hearts in the next 10 years, he said. The BJD has announced that their swearing-in ceremony would be held on June 9.

Incidentally, Modi had made similar statements before the 2019 elections. He had criticised Patnaik at a rally in Kendrapara saying that the BJD government’s departure was imminent. Patnaik had then responded by inviting Modi to attend his oath taking ceremony.

This time, however, Modi has been critical of the BJD from the beginning and advocating for a double-engine government. The BJP started raising the issue of Odia pride and language by terming Patnaik’s close aide and BJD leader Kartik Pandian an outsider, since its talks of forging a pre-poll alliance with the BJD failed a few weeks ago.

The BJD has countered saying that a Union Minister from the state had opposed the Parikrama project surrounding the Jagannath temple in Puri, and that the Modi government had not given any funds for the development of Odia language in the last 10 years.

Interestingly, the BJD and the BJP were in an alliance for a decade before they parted ways ahead of the 2009 elections. The BJD also supported the Modi government in Parliament on many issues, and voted for a BJP candidate in Rajya Sabha elections in the State after the 2019 polls.

Congress’s lone battle

On the other hand, the Congress is trying hard to regain its lost vote base that had drifted towards the BJP in 2019 polls in the aftermath of the Pulwama and Balakot incidents. The party, which failed to stitch the INDIA bloc alliance in the State, is contesting alone by highlighting the bonhomie between its rivals and promising attractive schemes for the people. The party has left one Assembly seat to the CPI(M) and one Lok Sabha seat to the JMM.

The BJD, however, stays ahead of its rivals in terms of organisational strength. Apart from banking on women voters and the State government’s welfare schemes and 5T initiatives, the party has promised a separate youth budget of ₹1-lakh crore and free electricity for households using up to 100 units and subsidised electricity for those using 100 to 150 units.

With Patnaik’s popularity intact, the BJD is likely to perform well in the coming polls, if the Congress improves its vote share by dividing the opposition votes. The State BJP not having a Chief Ministerial face and its dependence on Modi’s image may also help the BJD which has been thriving on the ‘Odia pride’ and stable leadership.