A stranger in his home state, Dr Sambit Patra landed in trouble almost as soon as he arrived in Puri, where he is the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha. The reason: he carried an idol of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the state, in his hands.
Servitors of the Jagannath Temple were up in arms against him for denigrating the Lord. “It is against the culture and tradition of Lord Jagannath for Him to be carried around in a vehicle during an election rally,” senior servitor Ramachandra Dasmohapatra said, adding; “It is only during the annual Ratha Yatra festival that Lord Jagannath goes around in a chariot.”
The Congress petitioned the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) accusing Patra of violating the election code of conduct by using a religious symbol during campaigning. On his part, Patra brushed aside the allegation and claimed he was holding the idol ‘gifted’ to him by someone during the rally.
Hardly had the controversy over the Jagannath idol died down when he landed in another. A video of him feeding an old woman cooking in a chulha went viral and invited sharp barbs, not just on him but on the party as well, on social media.
While he was slammed for feeding his ‘jhootha’ food to an elderly lady, others latched on to it as ‘clinching proof’ of the failure of the much tom-tommed ‘Ujjwala’ scheme of the Modi government. Unwittingly, Patra had exposed Dharmendra Pradhan, who steered the scheme in his capacity as the Union Petroleum minister, to ridicule. “Where is the cylinder,” people asked.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, he has now raked up a fresh controversy with an interview to Kanak TV, a leading Odia channel, in which he said; “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain. Why should we be apologetic about it?”
The comment triggered howls of protest from other parties. “Attempts to polarise voters on religious lines will not work in the Land of Jagannath,” said senior Congress leader Arya Kumar Jnanedra while the BJD too slammed what it called a blatant use of religion.
In fact every time he has opened his mouth, the BJP motor-mouth has invoked Lord Jagannath saying it was due to His wish – and of course Narendra Modi’s blessings – that he had got the opportunity to contest the election from Puri.
But the Lord Himself does not appear to have been very kind to him. His reference to the Lord as ‘Srijukta Jagannath’ in one of his TV interviews also caused a lot of mirth.
Every time he speaks to an Odia TV channel, he puts his foot in the mouth with wrong choice of words. While he speaks Odia the way he speaks Hindi or English, he uses many words that cannot be found in any Odia dictionary. “Knowledge of Odia is not a prerequisite for winning an election in Odisha,” a wag commented on Twitter in what was a dig at both Patra and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who cannot speak the local language even after four terms in office.
Dr Patra’s problems with Odia can be attributed to the fact that he has spent the better part of his 45 years outside Odisha. Though born in Mangalpur village in Odisha’s Jajpur district, he spent his entire childhood in the coal town of Dhanbad where his father was an officer with a central PSU. The family later shifted to Vishakhapatnam where he did his college education.
Patra did return to Odisha sometime in the early 1990s: to study medicine at the VSS Medical College in Burla. He completed his MBBS in 1997 and then did his Master in Surgery (MS) course at the SCB Medical College in Cuttack in 2002 before shifting to New Delhi where he took up a job with the Hindurao Hospital.
Those who know him from his early days in the national capital say he was always religiously inclined and read all Hindu scriptures in his quest for spiritualism. He even acted as a preacher for a few years while serving at Hindurao, mainly visiting places in north India.
For the people of Puri, he is even more of a stranger than he is in Jajpur. To make matters worse for him, the party does not really have a base worth the name in the constituency, which has been a BJD bastion since 1998. The party came a poor third in the 2014 election, with its candidate Ashok Sahu polling 2,15,763 votes, over 45,000 behind Congress’ Sucharita Mohanty and over three lakh votes behind the winning candidate: Pinaki Mishra of the BJD, who got a whopping 5,23,161 votes.