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BJP's Bijoy Mohapatra, Naveen Patnaik's Friend-turned-foe, Looks to Win His First Election in 19 Years

While the results of the Patkura by-poll will provide no significant numerical value to the BJD, it will add to the BJP’s numbers in the House if Mohapatra wins.

Anand ST Das | News18.com

Updated:July 20, 2019, 11:18 AM IST
BJP's Bijoy Mohapatra, Naveen Patnaik's Friend-turned-foe, Looks to Win His First Election in 19 Years
File photo of BJP's Bijay Mohapatra, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Bhubaneswar: A big question in the minds of the people of Odisha and political observers alike is whether Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s friend-turned-foe Bijoy Mohapatra will finally win his first election in 19 years.

Mohapatra, 68, is the BJP candidate in the by-poll for Patkura Assembly constituency in the coastal Kendrapara district that votes on July 20. The by-poll is a high-stake affair for him as many say this will be the last election he contests. The result will also be seen as a reflection of Patnaik’s charisma and the newfound bonhomie between the ruling party and the main opposition BJP.

Pitted against Mohapatra is BJD’s Sabitri Agrawalla and Congress’s Jayant Mohanty. Agrawalla is the widow of former Patkura MLA Bed Prakash Agrawalla, whose death nine days before the last poll date in May necessitated the by-poll.

Both the BJD and the BJP have carried out elaborate, high-voltage campaigns in the constituency, putting their top leaders and best resources. While the results will provide no significant numerical value to the BJD, which gained a robust three-fourths majority in the Assembly in the April-May Lok Sabha election, it will add to the BJP’s numbers in the House if Mohapatra wins, raising it to 24 in the 147-member Assembly.

More than the number game in the Assembly, the Patkura by-poll is widely being seen as a prestige battle between Patnaik and Mohapatra, a four-term MLA from Patkura and former minister who had been a close aide of the chief minister’s father, the legendary Biju Patnaik. For the past 19 years, Mohapatra has been the chief minister’s most outspoken detractor in Odisha.

Patnaik and Mohapatra had together set up the BJD in 1997 and used to be the best of friends till 2000, when the former denied the latter a party ticket for the Assembly polls despite Mohapatra being a sitting MLA. Mohapatra’s rising stature and influence in the new party had allegedly made Patnaik and his coterie of advisors feel insecure.

No election Mohapatra has contested since 2000 has brought him victory. Political analysts say Patnaik, who became the chief minister for the first time in 2000, personally ensured that Mohapatra lost each of those elections. The latest by-poll in Patkura is no different.

Patnaik, who faced allegations of intentionally getting the Patkura polls delayed to keep Mohapatra out of the Assembly, put nearly a dozen ministers and several BJD legislators for campaigning there. In the ongoing budget session of the Assembly, only eight of the 21 ministers and 61 of the 111 BJD legislators were present in the House over the last few days. They were engaged in campaigning and planning for the party in Patkura.

The BJP, despite the BJD’s support to ensure the victory of a Rajya Sabha candidate from the party last month, has held several campaign rallies in Patkura addressed by top leaders, including Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Pratap Sarangi and MP Aparajita Sarangi.

Both parties are confident of winning the by-poll. The BJD has clearly made an extra effort to bag this seat because its Kendrapara MP, Anubhav Mohanty, had got a thin lead of over 6,000 votes against his BJP rival Baijayant Panda in this Assembly segment. It is the 2.44 lakh voters in the Assembly segment who now hold the keys.

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