Elections 2024: In Odisha, all eyes on two contests in Kendrapara

In the traditionally anti-Congress region, it’s a battle between Biju Patnaik’s legacy and Modi’s popularity

Debi Mohanty | June 1, 2024


#Narendra Modi   #BJD   #Naveen Patnaik   #Odisha   #General Elections   #BJP   #Bijayant Panda  
(Top) Chief minister Naveen Patnaik campaigning for Anshuman Mohanty, and (below) Prime minister Narendra Modi with Bijayant Panda at a rally (Image courtesy: @Anshumanbjd and @PandaJay)
(Top) Chief minister Naveen Patnaik campaigning for Anshuman Mohanty, and (below) Prime minister Narendra Modi with Bijayant Panda at a rally (Image courtesy: @Anshumanbjd and @PandaJay)

Sarbeswara Samal, 66, a retired Odisha government employee residing in Bhubaneswar, has never forgotten to cast his vote in his village under the Patkura Assembly constituency which is a part of the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat. This time too he has his tasks cut out.

Sipping tea at a roadside stall in Bhubaneswar, Samal said that, considering the terrible heat wave gripping the state, he intended to be at the polling station early on Saturday, June 1, when Kendrapara will vote in the final of Odisha’s four phases of simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and the state assembly.

Though politically active, the district, despite its proximity to two ports, lacks any industry. Kendrapara found a place in the railway map a few months ago. Home to the Bhitarkanika National park, Kendrapara is the unofficial plumbing capital of India. Not only in all leading cities of the country, plumbers of Kendrapara are doing well in the gulf countries as well.

Though the BJD, BJP and Congress are the three major players, the real fight, it’s largely viewed, is between the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
 
“You have to be in Kendrapara to get a feel of the real contest. It’s a different experience, altogether,” says Samal.

This time though, like Samal, Kendrapara’s voters have more reasons to be excited – a new chapter in the political history of these two seats is being scripted.
 
The BJD has fielded Arabinda Mohapatra for the Patkura assembly seat and ex-Congress MLA Anshuman Mohanty for the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat. They are sons of chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s aides-turned-rivals, Bijoy Mohapatra and Nalinikanta Mohanty, respectively.

In 2001, Patnaik sacked Nalini Mohanty from the ministry. Mohanty then joined Congress. His son Anshuman is locked in a triangular contest with Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda of the BJP and Congress’s Siddharth Swarup Das, a greenhorn in electoral politics.

Incidentally, Panda, Patnaik’s blue-eyed boy once upon a time, represented the BJD in the Rajya Sabha and twice in the Lok Sabha (2009, 2014), both the times from Kendrapara.

He, however, fell out with Patnaik and switched over to the BJP. He hasn’t left Kendrapara, though. In 2019, Panda contested, but lost to Odia actor and BJD nominee Anubhav Mohanty.

Jay Panda, Bijoy Mohapatra and Nalini Mohanty are among the BJDs founding members.  

Biju Legacy v/s Modi’s popularity
Known as an anti-Congress bastion, Kendrapara sent Naveen Patnaik’s late father, Biju Patnaik, thrice to the Lok Sabha, in 1977, 1980 and 1984. Even when Rajiv Gandhi rode a massive sympathy wave in after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Kendrapara stood as the only non-Congress seat from Odisha. While the BJD has won the seat consecutively from 1998, no candidate opposing the Patnaik family has won it in the last fifty years.

In this election, with the stakes high, both BJD and BJP have campaigned aggressively.
Addressing rallies, top BJP leaders, including, PM Narendra Modi, union minister Smriti Irani, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his Assam counterpart, Himanta Biswa Sarma, made a blistering attack on Naveen Patnaik and his government.

Countering the BJP, Naveen Patnaik responded with scathing personal attacks on Jay Panda.

While the BJP believes Modi’s popularity will help it win, BJD is banking heavily on the Biju legacy and Naveen Patnaik’s popularity

The approximately one lakh Muslim voters in the constituency may play a critical role in deciding the outcome. The BJD-BJP bonhomie, which was on show till just a couple of months back, may not have pleased them.

“It’s a cliff-hanger, extremely difficult to say who will win,” said a senior journalist, who says people remember Jay Panda’s role in bringing back the bodies of migrant workers of this district who died abroad and also his help to local workers based in the Gulf region. He also provided drinking water access to many families from his MPLAD funds.

However, the scribe added, when it comes to elections, the voters of Kendrapara traditionally rally around the BJD. “They have an emotional attachment with the Patnaik family. But the first time voters love Modi,” he observed.

End of an Epic Rivalry

As for the Patkura assembly seat, Naveen Patnaik has tried all the tricks to block his bête noire and popular leader Bijoy Mohapatra’s route to the state assembly.

The Naveen Patnaik-Bijoy Mohapatra rivalry is part of the Odisha politics folklore. In the 2000 elections, which was Naveen Patnaik’s first brush with assembly polls, Mohapatra, who then headed the BJD’s powerful political affairs committee, was in charge of tickets distribution. Mohapatra had represented Patkura four times in a row. He was sure of his return to the assembly and might be eyeing a ‘possible larger role’.

However, with just a couple of hours before the deadline for filing nominations, Mohapatra, who was chairing a meeting of party leaders, was informed that another candidate had filed nomination on the BJD ticket. He even didn’t have time to reach Kendrapara, let alone file nominations.

Left in the lurch, Mohapatra ditched the party and concentrated his energies to secure the win for Trinamool Congress candidate, Trilochan Behera. Mahapatra’s organisational skill did the job and Behera defeated the official BJD candidate Atanu Sabyasachi. As luck would have it, Behera deserted Mohapatra and went on to join the BJD later.

Since then, Mohapatra has experimented but remained in political wilderness. He is not in the fray this time.
 

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