Bhubaneswar: History repeated itself in Odisha politics on Wednesday as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s long-time arch rival, Bijoy Mohapatra of the opposition BJP, was trounced by a candidate of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the much-hyped bypoll for Patkura Assembly constituency.
Mohapatra, 68, lost to Sabitri Agrawalla by a margin of 17,920 votes, putting an end to a cliffhanger electoral battle. The BJD candidate is the widow of the former Patkura legislator Bed Prakash Agrawalla. 82, who passed away nine days before the scheduled date of the poll on April 29.
The next date fixed by the Election Commission of India — May 19 — was cancelled on Patnaik's request in view of the impending Cyclone Fani that hit the coastal districts on May 3 and wreaked havoc.
Agrawalla secured 96,017 votes while Mohapatra bagged 78,097. The Congress candidate, Jayanta Mohanty, lost his security deposit as he secured a mere 2,104 votes. There were 10 candidates in the fray for the July 20 poll in which 72.69% of the total 2,44,747 voters exercised their franchise.
This defeat for Mohapatra, a founder member of the BJD and previously a close aide of legendary leader Biju Patnaik, effectively closed the doors to his highly-coveted entry into the Assembly after a series of attempts and failures spanning 19 years. Biju Patnaik, a freedom fighter, had served as Odisha chief minister for two terms.
If Mohapatra, a four-term former MLA and minister, had won, the BJD government would have had to confront a mighty orator and vociferous critic of the chief minister in the Assembly. Since Patnaik clipped Mohapatra’s wings on the eve of the Assembly polls in 2000 in a classic case of cutthroat realpolitik, the latter has relentlessly attacked him on policy issues and matters of alleged corruption.
Patnaik, said to have plotted extensively to foil Mohapatra’s bid to enter the Assembly on previous three occasions after 2000, had deployed nearly half of his cabinet ministers and more than 20 MLAs to campaign for Agrawalla. The chief minister had also personally campaigned for her for two days and told voters he would personally pay attention to the needs of the constituency.
Several top BJP leaders, including Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi and Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi, had held campaign rallies in Patkura to ensure Mohapatra’s victory. Leaders of the saffron party, currently the main opposition party in the state, had also alleged that Agrawalla distributed money to voters to influence them.
In the April-May Lok Sabha polls in Kendrapara constituency, BJD’s victorious MP Anubhav Mohanty had got a thin lead of over 6,000 votes against his BJP rival Baijayant Panda in Patkura Assembly segment. This was another reason why the BJD made an extra effort to ensure its candidate’s victory in Patkura.
“The fact that our margin of victory in Patkura is now three times more than that of two months ago (during Lok Sabha polls in the Assembly segment) proves that the people’s trust in the party and the government has grown further. This is a victory of development policies being implemented under chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s leadership,” said minister Arun Sahoo.
BJP’s Jayanarayan Mishra disagreed. “We were beaten by the money power and muscle power of the ruling party. When it is a general election, we get some seats out of 147. But when it is a by-poll, we fail as they (ruling BJD) use the government machinery excessively,” said the senior BJP leader.
“They (BJD) were claiming that their victory margin would be between 30,000 and 35,000 votes, but the margin has fallen below 18,000. This means they have failed to get the voters’ endorsement as much as they expected,” said senior Congress leader Taraprasad Bahinipati.
The BJD’s victory in the Patkura by-poll raised its strength in the 147-member Assembly to 113. The BJP presently has 23 MLAs while the Congress has nine.