Modi's juggernaut has few takers in Lord Jagannath's temple town

People see no alternative to Naveen Patnaik, but RSS hopeful of strong fight in 10 seats

ajay

Ajay Singh | April 3, 2014



The roots of the word 'juggernaut' are in Odisha. The chariot of Lord Jagannath at Puri is pulled by devotees every year with big celebration. Such is the faith of devotees that they often try to get crushed under its wheels in order to attain nirvana. But in English lexicon, juggernaut has come to connote a merciless, unstoppable force.

Thus, the rise and rise of BJP's prime ministerial candidate can be termed as a ‘juggernaut’. But this seemingly unstoppable force has few takers in this temple town, which is a bastion of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Puri, as one of the four ultimate pilgrimage points, ‘char dham’, and thus one of the highest seats of Hindu religion wields a considerable influence among the faithful.
 
The temple employs 15,000-odd pandas who are often seen bullying or fleecing gullible pilgrims coming here from all parts of the country. And most of them belong to local areas and inherited priesthood from Brahminical traditions. Politically, they are extremely conscious. “There is no Modi wave but he should be given a chance at the centre,” said one priest while others nodded in agreement.

“You see, we are totally against the Congress and there is no alternative to Naveen,” he said, adding that even the BJP does not have a leader of stature. An eminent educationist of Bhubaneswar summed up the BJP's dilemma quite aptly by saying, “It is like fixing Mercedes engine on a cycle.” He implied that while the BJP's organisational leadership like is a bicycle, Modi's popularity is akin to a Mercedes engine. In his view, this incompatibility within the BJP is the limiting factor for the party.

In Puri and other coastal areas of Odisha, Patnaik's candidates are hardly known. Yet they are visible on a stronger footing compared to others. The Congress appears to be in the most pitiable condition as its stalwarts deserted the party and joined the BJD. However, the BJP has tried to fill the vacuum created by an evident eclipse of the Congress.

Apparently, the BJP used to draw sustenance in Odisha from the organisational strength of the RSS and its adjunct organisations working for tribal welfare. Since tribals account for nearly 25 percent of the state population concentrated in the western part, the region has seen violent clashes, mainly between Christian missionaries and certain virulent manifestation of the Hindutva forces. But the party lost considerable ground during its alliance with the BJD till 2009. “Naveen's anti-RSS stance and meek surrender by the state leadership alienated the RSS which distanced itself from the BJP,” explained a local BJP leader.

But things have changed since Modi was declared the prime ministerial candidate. The RSS cadre is out in full force to mobilise support for him. “We have identified at least 10 Lok Sabha seats where we are putting up a strong fight,” said Arun Singh, BJP's in charge of election campaign for Odisha. He is quite optimistic that Modi's juggernaut in the home state of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the world) would not be a flop show.

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