Whatever your chief minister can do, Naveen Patnaik can do it better.

Win three consecutive terms? Patnaik is projected by most to be on track for a record fourth-term. Offer last-minute sops? The six months preceding elections have seen everything from a hike in dearness allowances for state employees to a Rs 230-crore scheme for women’s groups. Fight poverty? Odisha saw a 57.2 per cent reduction in poverty between 2005 and 2012. Stay away from the media? Patnaik has addressed just one press conference in his 14-year tenure. Battle corruption allegations? The Odisha CM has weathered accusations of everything from cheating tribals to being in bed with the mining mafia.

That’s ordinary stuff. Patnaik also excels at the more Machiavellian arts that are necessary to stay in power for this long. The last few weeks has seen scores of leaders of other parties offered tickets by Patnaik’s party, the Biju Janata Dal, to the extent that the NDTV-Hansa Opinion Poll predicts an increase in the BJD's Lok Sabha tally. As against their current tally of 14 of 21 seats, the poll forecasts 17 this time. The poll also estimates an unbeatable 40 per cent vote share for the party that has now ruled the state for 14 years.

“The Congress is in a bad shape and the people won’t touch the BJP after what happened in Kandhamal,” Biswamoy Pati, an associate professor at Delhi University, told Scroll.in, referring to unrest between Hindus and Christians that led to large-scale riots in 2007-'08. “The BJD connects with the people. They have the same approach as the Congress always did, they do the same thing, but they are identified as being ‘of Odisha,’ as being of the people.”

Things are a little different this year around. For many years, the BJD’s success was said to be a result of the combine between Patnaik and his former election manager Pyarimohan Mohapatra, garnering 14 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 and 103 of 147 seats in the assembly elections that year. Then in 2012, Patnaik  – who was once a regular on an international social circuit that featured pop-star Mick Jagger and US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy  – travelled outside the country for the first time in over a decade, only to hear that Mohapatra was plotting a coup.

He cut short his trip to London, and Mohapatra was soon expelled from the BJD, prompting him to found the Odisha Jan Morcha. Since then, Naveen Niwas  – the chief minister’s residence, named after Patnaik himself by his father, the freedom fighter and political doyen Biju Patnaik  – has been the nerve centre of the chief minister’s political machinations. Over the last few weeks, as the BJD has been deciding on its poll candidates, Naveen Niwas has reportedly seen 6,000 visitors every day.

But Patnaik’s plan of dangling BJD tickets to Opposition leaders to ensure victory has not gone down very well with the rank-and-file. The BJD has brought in turncoats from across the spectrum: the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and even Mohapatra’s OJM. In doing so, however, a number of local leaders have expressed frustration and unhappiness over the willingness to accept all comers, prompting many to believe the BJD’s real enemy is likely to come from within.

This is doubly true, of course, because the opposition is unlikely to provide any sort of a challenge. The NDTV-Hansa poll gives 30 per cent of the vote share to the Congress, the last party to run Odisha before Patnaik’s three terms, but only three Lok Sabha seats. Following them, the BJP is projected to win one seat with 13 per cent of the vote share.

Union Minister Srikant Jena of the Congress, the chief of the party’s Odisha campaign committee, is unsure about fighting from his current Lok Sabha constituency. State Congress chief Jayadev Jena’s failure to prevent defections to the BJD has inspired tremendous anger within the party; so much that the dissent about the ‘Jena duo’ even reached the Congress’ official Odisha Facebook account.

Meanwhile, the OJM has been trying desperately to stitch up an alliance with the BJP, which has remained ambivalent in the hopes of wooing Patnaik to support its National Democratic Alliance after the Lok Sabha results are declared. Pati, the Orissa scholar at Delhi University, said this would not happen because people, minorities as well as Hindus, are still scarred by the after-effects of the Kandhamal riots. “The BJP have put a lot of money into the state, they’ve tried really hard, but I would be really surprised if they win even one Lok Sabha seat,” Pati said. “The Aam Aadmi Party will cut some votes, and the Congress might win a few seats, but the BJD should be getting the bulk of the popular mandate.”

Lost in the cacophony of handing out seats and calculating alliances is the question of Odisha’s policy problems. A panel headed by current Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan concluded that Odisha is India’s most backward state, recommending additional funds from the Centre to address its deficiencies. The state also falls low on a number of human development indicators, and is also recovering from the aftermath of last year’s Cyclone Phailin, which did not lead to many casualties but affected the lives of nearly 13.2 million people across the state.

Rather than focus on this, however, Odisha’s politicians and analysts might not even be looking at Bhubaneshwar after the polls. Instead, they might have New Delhi in mind. Although it will be a matter of post-election calculation, Patnaik, with little baggage on the national scene, might be a contender for the Prime Minister’s post if the numbers fall into place. Improbable as that may be, Patnaik remains a strong force for the future.

But there might be one big obstacle standing in the way of any Patnaik plans beyond Odisha: his own party. “If Naveen Patnaik just steps out of Odisha, if he leaves for Delhi, they will start fighting each other,” Pati said. “Then forget having Patnaik at the Centre, as a Prime MInister. If he isn’t in Odisha, I doubt even the BJD can hope to survive.” The disincentive to move to national politics is perhaps why Patnaik has never been heard expressing prime ministerial ambitions unlike other regional leaders. He could have allied with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, giving it outside support, but chose not to do so. This May, Naveen Patnaik may remain king of Odisha, India's most backward state, looking the other way from New Delhi.