After BJP’s Surprise Win in 2019, Bhubaneswar’s Hot Seat Poised for Tight Triangular Fight in Lok Sabha Polls – News18

After BJP’s Surprise Win in 2019, Bhubaneswar’s Hot Seat Poised for Tight Triangular Fight in Lok Sabha Polls – News18

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The prestigious constituency of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, is all set to witness a fierce fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party, the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal, and the Congress in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. In 2019, when Lok Sabha and assembly elections were held simultaneously in the state, there was a straight fight between the BJP and BJD for the Bhubaneswar parliamentary seat. The Congress and Left had fought the election in an alliance but Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Janardan Pati failed to make an impact on this constituency. The last time that a CPI(M) candidate won from Bhubaneswar was more than three decades ago in 1991 when Sivaji Patnaik emerged victorious.

In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik campaigned in Bhubaneswar. BJP candidate, former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi, managed to wrest the seat from the BJD, which had held it for sixteen years without a break. This was also the first time that the BJP had won the Bhubaneswar seat.

For the 2019 election, the BJD dropped MP Prasanna Kumar Patasani who had won the Bhubaneswar seat five successive times from 1998 to 2014 and still enjoys a reputation of never having lost an election. Patasani was replaced with a “fresh face”, retired IPS officer Arup Patnaik, to take on former IAS officer Sarangi. However, the experiment did not work and the BJD paid a heavy price, losing the prestigious constituency to the BJP. Sarangi defeated Patnaik by a slim margin of nearly 24,000 votes. In 2019, the BJP won 8 of Odisha’s 21 Lok Sabha constituencies, up from 1 In 2014

One of the reasons behind the BJP wresting the Bhubaneswar constituency from the BJD was the absence of a Congress candidate. Political analysts say that the votes of the Congress were transferred to the BJP instead of the Left, tilting the scales in favour of the saffron party. Though the last time the Congress won this seat was more than 25 years ago in 1996, when Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, now a BJD rebel leader, was elected from here, the party still enjoys a vote base, though much reduced.

In 2019 though, the BJD stamped its dominance in the assembly polls, sweeping all the seven seats under Bhubaneswar: Jayadev, Bhubaneswar Central, Bhubaneswar North, Ekamra-Bhubaneswar, Jatani, Begunia, and Khurda.

Back in 2014, when the Modi wave was sweeping India, in Bhubaneswar, BJD candidate Patasani defeated BJP’s Pruthwiraj Harichandan by a margin of nearly 1,89,000 votes. Congress’s Lok Sabha candidate Bijoy Mohanty ended up in third place with 1,45,783 votes.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJD won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies, the BJP 1, and the Congress none. Then, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJD’s tally dropped to 12, while the BJP’s shot up to 8, and the Congress secured 1 seat. The BJP’s vote share too rose by 23% in just five years between 2014 and 2019. For the first time in Odisha, there was split voting: for Narendra Modi at the Centre and Naveen Patnaik in the state.

While the official list of candidates is yet to be declared, there is a buzz about the BJP and BJD’s possible nominees from Bhubaneswar — MP Aparajita Sarangi and Shreemayee Mishra. Even though BJD’s 2019 candidate Arup Patnaik lost by a slim margin, the party, it appears, has decided to drop him and field former actor Mishra who is the party general secretary and an engineering graduate in a bid to regain its lost bastion of Bhubaneswar.

Unlike last time, will the Congress field a candidate and will there be an alliance of opposition parties in Odisha without the BJP? When asked, state Congress president Sarat Pattanayak said, “Discussions are on with all — CPI, CPI(M), JMM, AAP. Nothing is final yet.” On whether the Congress would field a nominee from Bhubaneswar this time, Pattanayak responded, “Definitely, we will give a candidate.”

Hitting back at BJP state president Manmohan Samal’s jibe of the Congress being the “number 3 party who no one looks at”, Pattanayak said, “We lost 12 by-elections and we were in third position in Telangana; so how did we come back to power? After 24 years in power in Odisha, how has BJD changed in West Bengal? So, Naveen Patnaik is not powerful and neither is the BJP. We are definitely going to be number one this time. They may underestimate us but I don’t bother. We are putting in hard work at the booth and gram panchayat levels. We are doing our job very strongly this time.”

The Congress has been reduced to 13% vote share in the assembly elections and 16% in the Lok Sabha polls. For the past 25 years, it has been out of power in Odisha. However, it is making a determined bid to change its fortunes in the state. Sunil Kanugolu, the man behind the successful Congress campaign in Telangana, has already visited Odisha. The party has set up a “war room” manned by thirty people as well as call centres. According to sources, top Congress leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, and Sachin Pilot are all set to campaign here.

Meanwhile, the party is attempting to be visible on the ground with pitched protests almost every other day gheraoing the secretariat and the chief minister’s residence Naveen Niwas. The women’s wing of the Congress is active. The party’s state president Sarat Pattanayak has walked 2,000 kilometres across Odisha in the Bharat Jodo campaign. He also pointed to the “good response” of the people towards Congress president Kharge’s rally and MP Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra earlier this year. “We are not calling anyone, yet 15,000-20,000 people gathered. Why did they come? They have watched the BJP and BJD rule for the past 25 years. For nine years, BJP-BJD ruled Odisha in an alliance. Even after that, they remained as one. People realise that now. If you vote for BJD, it goes to BJP; if you vote for BJP, it goes to BJP. BJP gave Ashwini (Vaishnaw) Babu a Rajya Sabha berth and the BJD openly supported him. The only alternative is the Congress,” he said.

Pattanayak also recalled, “We had just 10 MLAs in 1990 when Biju Patnaik was the chief minister. I was an MP, and Janaki Babu was the PCC president. We campaigned across the state and from having just 10 MLAs in the assembly, we formed the government and Janaki (Ballabh Patnaik) Babu became the chief minister. So, in politics, you cannot say ‘second’ or ‘third’. Congress is in the fight. Our fight is against the BJD. Congress will definitely do better. We will go up from nine (the current number of Congress MLAs in the assembly) to 90. Mission 90 will definitely be successful.”

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