Lok Sabha polls 2019: BJD has edge over BJP, Congress in third phase polls in Odisha

As many as 6 Lok Sabha seats and 42 Assembly seats under them go to polls in the third phase in Odisha. The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) held near-complete sway over these 42 Assembly seats in 2014

Representative Image (Social Media)
Representative Image (Social Media)

Sandeep Sahu

As many as six Lok Sabha constituencies and 42 Assembly seats under them go to polls in the third phase in Odisha. They represent a disparate ensemble. Keonjhar is in the extreme north, Sambalpur is in the west, Dhenkanal at the centre and the rest three – Cuttack, Puri and Bhubaneswar part of the politically significant coastal Odisha.

But the thing to note about them is that the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) held near-complete sway over these 42 Assembly seats, winning no less than 37 of them in the last election in 2014.

The BJP managed to win just three out of these 42 seats – Kuchinda and Deogarh under Sambalpur Lok Sabha constituency and Chilika, part of the Bhubaneswar seat – while independents won in Champua (Keonjhar) and Satyabadi (Puri). The Congress drew a blank.

The BJP is expecting a richer haul this time when voting happens on April 23, especially in the 14 Assembly segments coming under Keonjhar and Sambalpur parliamentary constituencies, primarily on the strength of what it believes is a ‘Modi wave’ sweeping the whole state.

But the saffron party is also hoping to breach the hitherto impregnable fortress of the BJD in coastal Odisha after being a fringe player in the region in every previous election. Towards this end, it has roped in some leaders from the BJD and the Congress who quit their parties after losing out on the ticket sweepstakes since it knows it doesn’t have the organisational heft to take on the ruling party on its own.

There is also the interesting case of Prakash Behera, the sitting MLA from Salipur (part of the Cuttack LS seat), who was almost certain to secure a re-nomination but still crossed over to the BJP after failing to get an assurance of a ticket from the BJD. Behera’s move is symptomatic of the sorry state of the Congress in the state. But Salipur will also decide whether the BJP strategy of rolling out the red carpet to leaders of the other two parties actually pays electoral dividends.

Even as the BJP is making a determined effort to make inroads into the BJD bastion in coastal Odisha, BJD supremo has embarked on a counter move to beat the saffron party in its own game by focussing on its strongholds of western Odisha. BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik’s decision to contest from Bijepur – part of the Bargarh LS seat – apart from his old constituency of Hinjli in Ganjam district in south Odisha, is part of this strategy.

Interestingly though, while the fight is primarily between the BJD and the BJP in most places across the state, one of the key contests in the 42 third phase Assembly constituencies is going to be fought in Ghasipura under Keonjhar where Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Niranjan Patnaik is locking horns with his old foe Badri Narayan Patra, who has defeated him in the last four elections.

With both his sons named in criminal cases including murder, Patra has reportedly fallen from favour and there were doubts if he would get a ticket this time. The fact that he managed to pull it off in the end is a testimony to the clout he has in the area and the damage he could do if denied a ticket.

It is, however, going to extremely difficult for Patnaik to turn the tables on his bete noire despite this obvious handicap. May be that is the reason the PCC chief is also contesting from Bhandaripokhari constituency under the Bhadrak Lok Sabha seat. If he wins at least one of the two, it would resurrect his sagging political fortune. But if he loses both, it could well mean curtains for his political career.

The Jatni Assembly seat under Bhubaneswar is set to witness another keen contest – between former minister Suresh Routray of the Congress and Bibhuti Balabantaray, the sitting BJD MLA. This seat on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city is one of the few in the state where the Congress appears to be a front-runner, mainly because of Routray’s personal standing among the electorate and resentment in a section of the ruling party over the re-nomination of Balabantaray.

Notwithstanding a few constituencies like Ghasipura and Jatni, however, the contest in the six Lok Sabha and 42 Assembly seats going to polls on April 23 is expected to follow the pattern in the rest of the state with the BJP emerging as the principal challenger to the BJD and the Congress being relegated to the third position for the first time ever.

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Published: 19 Apr 2019, 9:00 PM