By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, March 10, 2019: More than three crore voters will vote in four phases in the simultaneous polls for the assembly and the Lok Sabha in Odisha beginning 11 April, the Election Commission said on Sunday.

The ruling Biju Janta Dal headed by Naveen Patnaik faces an uphill task as Odisha goes to polls next month with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress will bank upon incumbency factor to dethrone the longest serving chief minister in the state.

The BJD had won 117 in the 147-member state assembly and 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, in 2014 polls. The BJD is leaving no stone unturned to ensure a win in 2019 to ensure Naveen a fifth term as chief minister. But it won’t be a cake walk for Naveen Patnaik, though experts opine that the state may still vote Patnaik back despite some anti-incumbency.

“The BJD is still the leader though the BJP has improved its strength and the Congress is regrouping in the state following its victory in neighboring Chhattisgarh,” said Prof Surya Naryan Mishra, a political analyst in Odisha.

BJD leaders said the Naveen Patnaik government has done a lot of work for farmers, for the poor and for women, and hence the party is assured of support this time also. They blamed the BJP and Congress spreading misinformation, which the people will discount while voting.

However, the growth of the BJP over the last few years in the state is quite visible and more so after the 2017 panchayat polls with the saffron party emerging as the second in the tally leaving Congress to third position. But after Niranjan Patnaik took over the charge of Congress as president of the state unit, Congress appears to be on the revival mode.

With Congress entering into seat adjustment with CPI, CPM and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the state will witness three cornered contest with the BJD and BJP. The ruling BJD will have a tough time to repeat 2014 poll outcome but Naveen’s clean image and connect with the people is a huge positive for the party, experts said.

In the 2014 general elections, the BJP bagged one Lok Sabha seat in Odisha and 10 seats in the 147-member Odisha Assembly. In the 2012 panchayat elections, the party had just 36 zilla parishad members out of a total of 853 seats. In contrast, in the 2017 panchayat elections the BJP had 297 seats, almost a nine-fold growth. However, the BJD was the lead party by winning 473 seats in the panchayat polls in 2017 (its tally went down from 651 in 2012).

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