Odisha’s women may have helped tilt scales in state against BJD, say experts

Women have long been a BJD vote bank; but excessive campaigning by BJP in addition to poll promises may have influenced female voters to go saffron

More women voted in Odisha this time than men. Photo: @Naveen_Odisha / X

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which has ruled for 24 years in Odisha, has suffered a setback in both state assembly and Lok Sabha polls this time. A primary reason could be women voters voting against the party which has ruled the state for 24 years.

According to trends available till 4 PM on June 4, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was leading in 19 of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state, reducing the BJD to just one. The Congress was leading in Koraput, a seat in south Odisha. For the regional behemoth, this will be an astounding fall — it won 20 constituencies in 2014 and 12 in 2019.

The BJD has always considered the state’s women voters as its vote bank. The regional outfit, led by Naveen Patnaik, has reason to believe so. The party has not only pleaded for 33 per cent reservation in the state assembly and Lok Sabha for women, but has also formed 7 million women self help groups (SHG) to empower half of the population. The party had also promised to provide pension to members of women SHGs if voted to power.

This Lok Sabha election had also had another factor seemingly going in the BJD’s favour. More women exercised their franchise than their male counterparts in the four-phase elections held simultaneously in Odisha’s 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly seats from May 13 to June 1.

According to the state electoral commissioner Nikunja Bihari Dhal, 73.37 per cent of the total voters who participated in the polling this election were male while 75.55 per cent were female.

Dhal said more than 25 million voters exercised their franchise in the four-phase elections. The voter turnout increased in the 2024 elections compared to 2019. “The total voter turnout, excluding postal ballots, was recorded at 74.44 per cent in 2024, against 73.09 per cent in 2019,” he said.

However, things have not gone according to plan for the BJD. As things stand at 4 PM, the BJP is leading in 80 seats of the state’s 147, five more than the majority, and 57 higher than the figure it had managed to get to in 2019. The BJD is at 49, down from 113. The Congress is leading in 15. In 2019, Congress had won in 9 seats.

The women voters, on which Naveen Patnaik’s party depends, might have tilted the scales, experts said.

Aggressive campaigning by BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi; assurance to provide financial assistance to women under Subhadra Yojana and more employment to their kids and to arrest agents/traffickers sending people through fraudulent means as migrants to other states to eke out their livelihoods, might have impressed women to vote saffron, said Jayant Kumar Mohapatra, former vice chancellor, Berhampur University.

He, however, said the BJP would face serious challenges in order to fulfill its promises, if it forms the government in the state.

Anti-incumbency factor and change of candidates are some other reasons for the regional outfit getting a major jolt this time, said J K Barala, also the former vice chancellor of Berhampur University. Barala has edited a book titled Election Politics and voting behaviour in India, published in 1989. People wanted a change and voted BJP this time, he said.

While the BJP is not faring well at the Centre, Odisha may emerge as the sliver lining for the party. The leads suggest that not only will the BJP emerge as the single largest party in the state in the Lok Sabha elections, but may also snatch power in the state from the BJD, he said.

“Kindly wait till the end of the counting in all seats,” said Tumba Nath Panda, a spokesperson of BJD. “We are going to form the government in the state for the first time,” said Bibhuti Jena, a senior leader of BJP. 

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