Amit Shah ‘drives’ Naveen Patnaik to hold parleys with Congress

New Delhi: BJP president Amit Shah’s aggressive poll strategy in Naveen Patnaik-ruled Odisha has set the state’s politics abuzz with speculation about the ruling Biju Janata Dal forced to open back-channel talks with the Congress to formulate a strategy to check the BJP’s unabated growth in the state, which the BJD has ruled nearly two decades.

Odisha is one of the key states on Mr Shah’s radar where the saffron party has never had its own government. Mr Shah was in Odisha for three days earlier this week to review tasks given to party leaders during his last visit in July. Mr Shah will visit Odisha again in November.

Odisha was one of the few states where the BJP failed to make an impact in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Mr Shah, now on a nationwide tour to the party’s state units ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will be on a three-day visit from Monday to West Bengal, another state where the BJP has been desperately trying to gain ground.

Speculation in rife in Odisha’s political circles that the BJD is holding talks with the Congress, which is the state’s principal Opposition party, on how to check the BJP’s significantly rising political graph. Grappling with factionalism, the Congress is also facing problems like a leadership crisis and internal rift. The state Congress unit could also see a major reshuffle amid growing demands from its workers.

The state Congress, it is learnt, is also worried about losing its support base to the BJP, which was evident during the local bodies elections held earlier this year. The BJP gained significantly in these polls. Since 2014, several BJD and Congress leaders and supporters have joined the BJP.

Upbeat over the local bodies poll verdict, the saffron cadre in the state has been charged up due to the party central leadership’s aggressive “Mission 120” strategy. There are 147 Assembly constituencies in the state and the state elections are due in 2019.

Ahead of that, Mr Shah has set tasks, including “Mera booth sabse majboot” (My booth the strongest), for state leaders. Mr Shah’s electoral buleprint includes making the party stronger at all the 36,000 booths spread across the state. Saffron leaders and cadres have been asked to compile a detailed data of voters, including their address, phone numbers and which party they prefer, and why.

Categories also include “voters who can influence”; “major social and religious groups in the state” and “activists of other parties”.

The state leadershp has been asked to invlove over 90 “vistaraks”, who will assist the central leadership in each district of the state.

Mr Shah has also asked the state leadership to ensure that each and every department/committee formed up to the district level should become functional and be given tasks, which he would review during his next visit to the state. In all, Mr Shah held 27 meetings with party leaders, workers and supporters during his three-day stay in Odisha.