The result of the Patkura Assembly by-election in Odisha is set to come out on Wednesday. The outcome, however, will virtually have no impact on the constitution of the state Assembly, but will rather be a test of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's continued influence in the Kendrapara region, of which Patkura is a part.
The results for this lone Assembly constituency, polling for which was finally conducted on 20 July after being deferred twice, is keenly watched across the state as the electoral battle is an embodiment of two-decades-old rivalry between Patnaik and one of Biju Janata Dal's founding members Bijoy Mohapatra, who is now contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket.
Mohapatra, a four-time MLA and one of the founders of the BJD, was ousted from the party by Patnaik just before the 2000 Assembly polls after a bitter rift. Since then, it is said that Patnaik has made it a prestige issue to keep Mohapatra out of the Assembly, who has not won a single election since. Mohapatra's supporters say that this loss can mostly be attributed to the fact that Patnaik goes the extra mile to ensure that the 68-year-old former minister in the Biju Patnaik cabinet is positively defeated from his earlier bastion.
Many alleged that Patnaik connived to defer Patkura's poll, only to ensure Mohapatra doesn't benefit from a BJP wave in the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, by fielding a seriously ailing Bed Prakash Agrawala (82).
The political implication of the decision to field Agrawala, who was admitted in an ICU at a private hospital in state capital at the time of nomination was clear, especially when Patnaik had dumped many 75+ sitting MLAs like Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik (76), Jugal Kishore Patnaik (80), V Sugnan Kumari Deo (82) and Jogendra Behera (77), presumably because of their old age.
Finally, polling in Patkura Assembly seat, first scheduled on 29 April could not take place because Agrawala passed away nine days before election. The ECI then fixed 19 May as the new date for the polls in Patkura but further postponed due to Cyclone Fani which hit the state on 3 May. The BJD then fielded Agrawala's wife Sabitri to take on Mohapatra.
"The result of the Kendrapara bypoll to be announced this afternoon may not have any consequence as far as government formation is concerned. However it has immense significance for two of the most known leaders, both biggest enemies, Naveen Patnaik and his late father's trusted aid Bijoy Mohapatra. A defeat for Mohapatra(BJP) away from power for two decades and failure in five successive elections will seal his political career. However, a win for him will change the narrative that Patnaik's enemies can't grow in politics or be successful in electoral politics in the state," opines senior political commentator Debi Mohanty.
Since being shunted out of the BJD, Mohapatra has had a tough time reclaiming his position in the state's politics. According to reports from the time, Mohapatra formed his own party, Odisha Gana Parishad in 2001, which managed to win 3 out of four seats it contested in alliance with Congress; the only seat the party lost was Mohapatra's.
Mohapatra later merged his party with the Nationalist Congress Party, but was forced to resign after NCP decided to ally with BJD in 2009 elections. He had a difficult run with the BJP too, from where he had resigned in December 2018. But he was coaxed back into party by another BJD-cast out and now a BJP leader, Baijayant Panda.
Political insiders say that Mohapatra's consistent losses have less to do with his own political acumen and is more about him courting Patnaik's enmity. The Economic Times quotes Congress leader, who says , “The fact is Mohapatra has practically always contested as an independent, even in 2009 when he contested on the BJP ticket the party barely had a cadre base. It is impossible for any individual to take on the ruling party alone."
And that is the reason many believe Mohapatra has the best chance of winning in many years with BJP's cadre base and election machinery behind him.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jul 24, 2019 12:25:24 IST