Bhubaneswar: Puri's electorate is gearing up to witness a high-intensity battle of the spokespersons of three major political parties in the upcoming third phase of the Lok Sabha election. While the region has remained a BJD bastion for the past few decades, this time round, the BJP and Congress are pulling out all the stops by entering their debate-friendly candidates in the polls.
BJP has fielded its poster boy and party national spokesperson Sambit Patra for the Lok Sabha seat. Not to be outdone, the Congress has picked the former news TV star and current state spokesperson, Satya Prakash Nayak. Meanwhile, the Biju Janata Dal has nominated three-time MP, and eminent lawyer, Pinaki Misra to give both national parties stiff competition.
Nayak joined the Congress a year ago after quitting journalism citing frequent political interference and pressure due to his anti-establishment stand. "I always focused on news reports that exposed the double-speak of the ruling government. Due to my regular attacks on crucial policies of the government, I made many enemies in politics. Many of them used their clout to get me fired from different media houses. I joined politics to answer them from their turf," says Nayak. He further alleged that he had been targeted with false cases like defamation and rioting, and his school-teacher wife was also frequently transferred to trouble his family.
BJP's Patra has been campaigning using the Hindutva platform, stirring up controversy in the constituency. During a campaign rally, he was seen carrying an idol of Lord Jagannath, which drew the ire of locals and his political opponents. Irked by the use of religion, the BJD registered a complaint with the Odisha Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) citing Patra's use of religion to influence voters.
Meanwhile, officials of the flying squad have registered an FIR against Patra for allegedly using Lord Jagannath's name on his vehicle that was used for election campaigning. The plaint was filed at Sea Beach Police Station of Puri town.
The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD re-nominated Misra, an eminent lawyer at the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Sitting MP, Misra was first elected on a Congress ticket in 1996. Later, he joined the BJD and won the seat in 2009 and 2014. According to a regional political analyst, although the Lok Sabha seat was with BJD during the past two decades, the BJP has emerged as a strong opponent with the Congress being left behind. The Congress is gradually losing ground as many of its leaders have left for other parties. With fewer grassroots workers, the Congress is not able to put up a tough fight in front of the BJP, which has absorbed many senior BJD leaders.
In addition, Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and BJP party chief Amit Shah have been touring Odisha regularly for the past three years to strengthen the party base in the state. There is a support base for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the region because of the large population of Hindus in the region. In addition, ahead of the polls, many strong BJD and Congress leaders have joined the BJP. Former BJD leader and Puri municipality chairman, Jayanta Kumar Sarangi recently joined the BJP and is contesting from Puri. Sitting Kandhamal MP and royal scion, Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh, who was elected on a BJD ticket also joined the BJP. Singh's presence will help the BJP in Nayagarh.
After the death of veteran Congress leader Laltendu Bidydhar (Lulu) Mohapatra, his daughter Upasana and brother Lalitendu Bidyadhar Mahapatra have left the Congress and joined the BJP. Moreover, a sizable section of Congress workers from the constituency have also shifted their allegiance to BJP. Lalitendu is the BJP nominee for the seat now. The BJD has re-nominated its current and former ministers, Maheswar Mohanty (Puri), Pradeep Maharathy (Pipili), Sanjay Kumar Das Burma (Bramhagiri), Arun Sahoo (Nayagarh), and other senior leaders for four additional seats. .
As the polls began to draw nearer, the communication skills of all contesting party spokespersons were put to the test. "No development took place in the state because of the inefficiency of the BJD government. People have love and affection towards Modi and we are trying to convert this into votes," said Patra. Meanwhile Misra ruled out any threat from Patra and Nayak. "The track record of Patra is that he has so far debated only in 'godi channels' (those favouring the government) where anchors don't pose any serious questions. Let him debate with me, I will show him his place and tell him about my performance in Parliament," he said.
The Puri Lok Sabha seat
Puri has seven Assembly constituencies spread across Puri, Khurda and Nayagarh districts. These include Puri, Brahmagiri, Satyabadi, Pipili, Chilika, Ranpur and Nayagarh. Chilika and Ranpur are parts of Khurda district and this is the only constituency in Odisha, where all Assembly seats are in the general category, which means anyone can contest polls.
Prior to the delimitation of parliamentary and the legislative Assembly constituencies in 2008, Nayagarh did not have an Assembly seat. Instead, Balipatana came under the Lok Sabha seat. Polls for this Lok Sabha seat have been held 16 times since 1952, of which Congress won the seat six times, while the Janata Dal won it thrice. The Communist Party of India and George Fernandes' Samyukta Socialist Party won the seat in the 1967 and 1957 elections, respectively.
The BJD has continuously won the Puri seat since its inception in 1998. The regional party won elections in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. The former Union Minister, Braja Kishore Tripathy was elected from the seat four times in 1991 (Janata Dal), 1998 (BJD), 1999 (BJD) and 2004 (BJD). In 2014, the BJD's Mishra got 5,23,161 (50.33 percent) votes, Congress' Sucharita Mohanty got 2,59,800 (25 percent) votes and the BJP's Ashok Sahu got 2,15,763 (20.76 percent) votes.
In 2014, of seven MLA seats, BJD won five, while BJP and an Independent candidate, Umakanta Samantray won the Chilika and Satyabadi seats. However, Samantray later joined the BJD. The Puri seat is significant because Patnaik picked four MLAs from the constituency to be a part of his cabinet. Two of them were removed from the cabinet during the reshuffle in 2018, after winning the Bijepur bypolls.
The author is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2019 18:39:56 IST