By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, February 28, 2018: Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal supremo Naveen Patnaik once again proved to every savvy politician that he remains invincible, endeared by millions of Odias at the grassroot level and wields power that keeps his party in his iron grip.

Naveen once again led the ruling party to notch up a landslide victory in the much-hyped Bijepur by-poll – the state’s most important electoral contest after the 2017 local body elections. The outcome has come as a blunting momentum for the aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and raised questions on the very survival of the Congress in the state.

The BJD secured a sweeping victory in the Bijepur bypoll, defeating BJP’s Ashok Panigrahi by more than 41,0933 votes the biggest margin in the last three polls for this assembly seat. What is most surprising is that the BJD candidate Rita Sahu secured around 1,02,871 votes and captured nearly 57 per cent of vote share in the crucial seat, which was vacated following the death of her husband Subal Sahu in August, 2017.

In the 2014 poll, in the triangular contest among the Congress, BJD and BJP, BJD candidate and former minister Prasanna Acharya had lost by in less than 1000 votes.

The overwhelming support of voters for BJD only reinforces the image of Naveen Patnaik as an invincible politician. “I would like to express my gratitude to public for showering their blessings on BJD. I am sure we will do very very well in 2019 General Elections as well,” Patnaik said clearly indicating that the Bijepur fight has been proved to be the precursor to the 2019 battle.

Why does Naveen look invincible? There are many reasons. Naveen is cool and gentle as usual and the BJD is more buoyant than ever before. The BJP has virtually ousted Congress to third position in the recent battle of ballots. But the party leaders at the state level are full of individuals who are not even in a position to win their own seats in an election.

Senior BJP leaders acknowledge that Modi is their sole success story, but Modi magic did not work in the 2014 general election vis-à-vis Naveen’s Odisha. The Modi-Shah magic has already waned in their previous bastions like Goa and Gujarat. The saffron party is baking on the likes of Manohar Parrikar and Nitish Kumar in its fold. Further, they have a few spokespersons like Sambit Patra that have kept their intellectual status in a credible stature, political observers said.

The state BJP president Basant Panda attributed the defeat at Bijepur to what he called, “unholy alliance between Congress and BJD”. The saffron party perhaps has no other explanation to reason out the party’s thrashing in the by-poll with such a huge margin.

Naveen is sitting pretty because the opposition is in disarray. It seems Naveen can smell trouble well in advance. That gives him an advantage of planning to outsmart his rival camps. At the ground level, Naveen is positioning himself as the savior of millions of Odias by bringing glory to the state through development, branding and image building for the state.

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