ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Assembly Elections, 2000 : Politics in Post-Cyclone Orissa

In the absence of major caste/class cleavages, disaffection in Orissa is directed against the state and its agencies. Defeat of the Congress in the assembly election was penalty for its awful handling of the cyclone.

The script of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) emphatic victory in the 12th assembly election in Orissa was written much before the final election result was declared. The BJD-BJP combine has picked up 106 out of 147 seats in the assembly. The BJD won 68 out of 84 seats it had contested and the BJP captured 38 out of 63 seats. Between them the two parties secured nearly 48 per cent (BJD 29.6 per cent and BJP 18.2 per cent) of the total votes polled in the state (‘Regional Parties to the Fore’, Yogendra Yadav with Sanjay Kumar and Oliver Heath, Frontline, March 17, 2000). The defeat of the Congress was predictable and its declining electoral fortune in recent years was clearly visible in the last parliamentary elections in the state. In comparison to the 1995 election, its seat share in the assembly dropped from 80 to 26 and the fall in vote share is nearly 6 percentage points. In comparison to the parliamentary election last year its vote share in the assembly election is down by about 4 percentage points (1999: 37 per cent, 2000: 33.8 per cent). How does one interpret the verdict of this assembly election? What does the electoral competition suggest about the larger domain of politics in the state?

The cyclone that wrecked the state just a few months before the election remains an immediate and significant backdrop against which the political discourse and electoral competition in Orissa has to be understood. According to a conservative estimate nearly 15,000 people perished due to the cyclone and millions were rendered homeless. This is not the place to narrate the story of devastation caused by the cyclone in Orissa. However, the tragic event put the issue of ‘governance’ and the nature of politics and state into sharper relief. The catastrophe also brought the theme of collective action and institutional efficacy into the realm of political common sense.

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