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Bijepur’s Third Election in Two Years Becomes Prestige Battle as Patnaik’s BJD, BJP Slug it Out

BJP is keen to bag the seat, vacated by Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, due to the party’s impressive performance in western Odisha in the Lok Sabha polls.

Anand ST Das | News18

Updated:October 7, 2019, 8:50 PM IST
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Bijepur’s Third Election in Two Years Becomes Prestige Battle as Patnaik’s BJD, BJP Slug it Out
File photo of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Bhubaneswar: The upcoming bypoll for the Bijepur Assembly seat in western Odisha’s Bargarh district has turned the constituency into the latest political hotspot as dozens of leaders from the three main parties are camping there to fine-tune their strategies ahead of voting on October 21.

Bijepur being a seat that chief minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik vacated just days after winning it in the April-May simultaneous election, the bypoll assumes special significance for the opposition BJP and Congress. For the ruling BJD, it is a prestige seat with high stakes.

Several ministers in Patnaik’s government, including Prafulla Mallick, Padmanabh Behera, Snehangini Chhuria and Sushant Singh, and nearly ten senior leaders from the coastal belt are camping in Bijepur for the past five days, said sources.

They have been visiting various puja pandals and holding meetings with party workers in the constituency to firm up strategies to gain the maximum votes. These leaders have been instructed by the CM’s trusted lieutenants in Bhubaneswar to stay put in Bijepur till the campaign gets over.

BJP, which is keen to bag this seat, especially due to the party’s impressive performance in western Odisha in the Lok Sabha polls, is set to rope in a number of national leaders for the campaign. BJP general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan said that most senior leaders are currently busy across the country due to the Durga Puja celebrations and they would visit Bijepur after Dussehra.

Among top BJP leaders whose campaigning schedules for this bypoll have been finalised are working president JP Nadda, and union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Pratap Chandra Sarangi and Smriti Irani, said party sources.

Congress is yet to reach a decision on any of its central leaders reaching Bijepur to join the campaign for the party’s candidate. A committee formed with Congress legislature party leader Narasingha Mishra will take a decision on the matter after October 10, said party sources.

In the triangular contest that is shaping up in Bijepur, the main fight is set to be between the ruling BJD and the BJP, political observers opined. This is the third time in two years that this constituency of 2.32 lakh eligible voters is having a poll to pick an MLA to represent it.

Hoping to add to its winning edge, BJD has relied on party leader and former MLA Rita Sahu as its candidate while BJP has nominated Sanat Kumar Gartia and Congress has fielded Dillip Panda. Sanat Kumar Gartia had contested against the CM in Bijepur in the April-May polls and was defeated by 57,122 votes.

Sahu is the widow of Bijepur’s former Congress MLA Subal Sahu, who represented the constituency three times on the trot between 2004 and 2014. His untimely death in 2018 led to the first bypoll, in which his widow became the BJD candidate and won.

Naveen Patnaik, who has been chief minister of Odisha for 19 years in a row, had contested from two Assembly seats – Bijepur and Hinjli – for the first time in the last election.

He had won both the seats with huge margins and chose to retain the Hinjli seat in Ganjam district, from where he has won five times so far, and vacated the Bijepur seat.

Three days before he vacated the Bijepur seat in May, Patnaik had announced a Rs 1,330-crore package for the constituency’s people, which included plans to provide pucca houses to 34,000 households. He had conveyed gratitude to the people of Bijepur for extending support to him and vowed to personally ensure the constituency’s development.

“Neither the development package nor the camping of ministers in Bijepur will help BJD win this bypoll as voters there are deeply hurt by the chief minister’s betrayal act. The voters are ready for a course correction this time,” said BJP state vice-president Samir Mohanty.

He rubbished reports about simmering revolts in the saffron party’s ranks in Bijepur ahead of the polls, claiming that dissident local leader and former MLA Ashok Kumar Panigrahy “is and will be in BJP”.

The ruling BJD is confident of an “easy, sweeping victory” for party candidate Rita Sahu in Bijepur. “She is a well-known face there. The chief minister’s development work across the state is resonating in Bijepur, and the voters here have no doubt about the CM’s sincerity for ensuring the constituency’s rapid development,” said senior BJD leader and transport minister Padmanabha Behera.

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