Nationally, the Bharatiya Janata Party should be disappointed by its Lok Sabha results. From setting out an aim of “400 paar”, crossing 400 seats, the BJP leads in just 232 seats as of 6 pm on Tuesday. This is a loss of 71 seats compared to its 2019 tally.

However, the brightest spot in this overall disappointing result is the state of Odisha. The state saw simultaneous polls, electing both representatives to the Lok Sabha as well as the Assembly. In the latter, the saffron party currently leads in a comfortable 80 seats. If these hold, it would be well on course to forming the next state government.

The Lok Sabha results are even more overwhelming. The BJP leads in 19 seats in the state out of a total of 21. The Biju Janata Dal which currently runs the state government has exactly one seat.

What explains this incredible result for this saffron party?

Voting out

The first and most important reason is anti-incumbency. This is a vote against the BJD – not for the BJP, per se. Naveen Patnaik has been chief minister of the state for an incredible 24 years making him the second-longest-serving chief minister of any Indian state.

A significant reason for this was the lack of a strong Opposition. After the political decline of former chief minister JB Patnaik in the mid-2000s, the Congress struggled to find a leader who could match Naveen Patnaik’s stature. In the absence of a credible alternative, the BJD kept on winning. Till of course, the rise of the BJP, flush with cash and an impressive general in Narendra Modi, challenged the BJD.

To its credit, the BJP also pushed hard in Odisha. Surprisingly, the state voted in as many as four phases leading to one veteran Odia journalist to quip to me that it had been drawn up by the Election Commission to fit Modi’s schedule. True or not, Modi did pull off a blinder, addressing rallies across the state. His personal popularity has a great role to play in the BJP’s stellar performance.

Tamil blues

Remarkably, in spite of 24 years in power, Naveen Patnaik remains fairly popular. However, it is widely believed that he now has little control over the party as well as his government. Instead, much of his work is actually done by VK Pandian, an Indian Administrative Service officer-turned-politician. Pandian was Patnaik’s favourite bureaucrat when in power and has largely run the BJD’s campaign even as Patnaik remains absent from the action.

This undemocratic nature of Pandian’s power was further set in sharp relief by the fact that he is not Odia. Pandian is from Tamil Nadu. The BJP made this the central point of its campaign, with Modi accusing Pandian of pilfering riches from the state’s famous Jagannath temple of spiriting them off to Tamil Nadu. A BJP ad showed a Pandian lookalike struggling to eat pakhala, Odisha’s national dish of fermented rice, in the Odia way, eventually calling for a Tamilian banana leaf. This campaign was so successful that, by the end of the campaign, Patnaik had to call a press conference and announce that Pandian will not be his successor.

Development gaps

But, of course, this last-minute damage control did not work. Even as Patnaik remained personally very popular, it is clear that even many of his fans would have voted BJP, convinced by its campaign that a BJD win would mean Pandian, not Patnaik in power.

Part of the BJD’s defeat today is a result gaps in its development successes. Even its critics would agree that the party has done a great deal when it comes to human development in the state. However, of late, this has stagnated. Anaemia in women and children of Odisha has increased in the last six years according to data from the National Family Health Survey-5 even as the state government has struggled to create jobs. As a result, not only is Odisha already a major provider of labour to other states, the number has increased under the BJD government.

This economic discontent was a major driver for anti-incumbency.