The fourth and final phase of the Lok Sabha election in Odisha is no less exciting than the last ball of a nerve-wracking T20 cricket game. The entire state is keenly glued to the pulsating build-up in Kendrapara. The thrill, anxiety and uncertainty over the outcome have added enough suspense, setting the stage for an exciting finish.
Welcome to Battleground Kendrapara: the venue of a very significant political showdown between the BJD and BJP.
The BJP’s Baijayant Panda, the one-time much-favoured colleague-turned sworn enemy of Patnaik, is taking on popular Odia cine star and BJD Rajya Sabha MP, Anubhav Mohanty. Panda has successfully represented the seat on a BJD ticket since 2009.
Although the Congress has fielded prominent high court lawyer Dharanidhar Nayak, who had managed to capture the second spot in 2014, Kendrapara is largely seen as a BJD versus BJP face-off.
“Both the candidates have 50:50 chances. Panda has done a lot of good work here. More importantly, he has stood by us whenever we have needed his support,” maintains Digambar Muduli (47) of Chandol village in Kendrapara’s Derabish block. Muduli, however, adds, “The people have a strong emotional bonding with Biju Babu’s family. Therefore, you can’t read their mind.”
Senior journalist Dilip Satpathy thinks that Panda has a fair chance. However, as Kendrapara has been a prestigious seat for the BJD, the regional party will try its best to retain it. Satpathy says,“The BJD knows well that if Panda wins, the entire constituency will go through a political transformation. It has been a pocketborough of the BJD, and therefore, the party will use all its might to retain the seat.”
Polling in Mayurbhanj, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seats, and 41 Assembly segments under these six constituencies, will be held on 29 April.
Kendrapara, for both the BJP and BJD, has become a prestige issue.
Patnaik is normally known to be a man of few words. However, a few days back, Patnaik, in an interview to a national TV channel, accused Panda of spreading rumours about his “ill health” for “political gain,” surprising many people. This had sent the message loud and clear: Panda is his enemy no 1.
Panda, soon after joining the saffron party, was made the national vice-president and spokesperson of the BJP. Many in the BJD believe that a win in Kendrapara will immensely increase his clout, both in state and national politics.
Panda also irked Patnaik further, as soon after joining the BJP, he managed to persuade Patnaik’s bête noir Bijoy Mohapatra, who had resigned from the saffron party last November after being sidelined for years, to return to the fold and contest from Patkura. Polling in Patkura has been rescheduled for 19 May following the death of BJD nominee Bed Prakash Agrawal.
Mohapatra, despite successive defeats in recent elections, is still considered to be a force to reckon with in Odisha, particularly Kendrapara. His grasp over issues, sharp political sense and uncanny ability to corner any Opposition leader is well-known.
Last year, when Panda resigned from the BJD on a sour note, it was believed that Patnaik would try all tricks to diminish Panda’s political future. Ironically, both Panda and Mohapatra were among the founding members of the BJD.
In the past 19 years in Odisha politics, anyone who has fallen out with Patnaik has never flourished again. From Bijoy Mohapatra to Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, bureaucrat-turned-close aide of Patnaik, everyone has been politically grounded. However, Panda, as can be gauged from the ground, is set to give his former boss a tough fight.
Interestingly, Kendrapara has been voting against the Congress since 1957. The BJD has been winning here since 1998. The seat sent Naveen Patnaik’s father Biju Patnaik thrice to Parliament in 1977, 1980 and 1984. No candidate opposing the Patnaik family has won the seat for almost the last fifty years.
Braving the heat and dust, Patnaik has extensively campaigned and held road shows in Kendrapara. A battery of BJD leaders has also been camping in the sleepy town.
On the other hand, the BJP aims to wrest the seat from the BJD and create history. The saffron party, too, has taken this contest equally seriously. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed an election rally in Kendrapara. Other top BJP leaders at the central and state levels have also appealed to people to vote for Panda.
While the BJD hopes Patnaik’s popularity, the party’s organisational strength and Anubhav’s fans will see it through, Panda is banking on Modi’s appeal, his own clean and suave image as well as his performance as a two- term Lok Sabha member.
“People in Kendrapara believe they are part of Biju Patnaik’s family. They love Naveen babu immensely,” says a retired headmaster from Kendrapara, who resides in Bhubaneswar. However, in the same breath, he adds, “Despite being well-educated and hailing from a leading industrialist family, Panda is very well-behaved and soft-spoken. You can’t dismiss the work he has done, particularly on ensuring the provision of drinking water in many areas of our district.”
In such a scenario, no party is willing to hazard a guess on who will win the seat. “It is difficult to predict who is going to win,” says a top leader of the BJD. However, he adds, “My sixth sense says that it is going to be the BJD.”
On the other hand, the BJP’s Bijoy Mohapatra believes that his party’s strength has risen immensely in the last few years. “Our chances are bright, not just in Kendrapara, but in the entire state,” he asserts. The Congress, too, hopes for an outside chance. “Don’t rule us out. We are the dark horse, and we may spring a surprise,” says a young leader of the party.
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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2019 07:42:04 IST